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...for his inspiring insights and practical work to help people realise the links between human spirituality, social justice and environmental stewardship.
Leonardo Boff, Brazilian theologian and priest, was one of the founders of Liberation Theology. Silenced twice by the Vatican, he is still active as a lay priest in poor communities, helping people find a vision that encompasses social justice, human spirituality and most recently also ecology. His work can be seen in "comunidades de base" or 'Base Christian Communities' and also found in the more than 70 books he has written.
Caixa Postal 22 144
Itaipava Petropolis RJ
Leonardo Boff was born in Brazil in 1938, received a doctorate from Munich in Germany in 1970, and for the following 20 years was Professor of Theology at the Jesuit Institute for Philosophy and Theology in Petropolis. Since 1993 he has been a Professor at the State University of Rio de Janeiro, where he is now Emeritus Professor of Ethics, Philosophy of Religion and Ecology. He is also member of the international initiative of the Earthcharter.
Boff was one of the founders of liberation theology. He was silenced by the Vatican in 1985 because of criticism of the Catholic Church in his book The Church, Charisma and Power. In 1992, receiving a second silencing order, he left the Franciscan order of which he was a member stating that "the future of humanity and planet earth" are more important than the future of the institutionalised church. He is, however, still active as a lay priest in poor communities, who are now finding a vision of social justice and community in the "comunidades de base" or 'Base Christian Communities'.
There are more than 100.000 of these grassroots Christian groups in Brazil which attempt to fuse the teachings of Christ with a liberating social gospel. Boff believes these are the places where liberation theology is lived concretely, where the political dimensions of a liberating faith come into play, and where the poor can come to understand that poverty is not natural. The comunidades de base continue to spawn leaders who work on behalf of the poor - in trade unions, political parties and in community organisations. Boff has worked closely with the Brazilian Landless Movement (MST), a 1991 Right Livelihood Award Recipient.
Boff's more recent work has sought to integrate ecology into liberation theology. His book, Cry of the Earth, Cry of the Poor, is a synthesis of deep ecology thinking with radical social critique. One chapter celebrates St. Francis of Assisi as the paradigm of "the new covenant of the heart with all things", which is Boff's answer to the world's twin crises of poverty and ecological destruction. In 2009 The Tao of Liberation. An Exploration of the Ecology of Transformation (with Mark Hathaway) was released. Boff is the author of more than 70 books.
December 7th, 2001
Madam Speaker, Your Excellencies, Distinguished Guests, and Friends.
More than just a person, the Right Livelihood Award awards a cause. What is the cause that moves a whole generation of Christians in the Third World, in which I find myself as a Brazilian theologian, on the periphery of the big metropolitan centers of reflection, for more than 30 years? It is the cause of the condemned of the Earth, who account for most of mankind.
At the end of the sixties, an entire generation of Christians and theologians wondered and still wonder: how can we announce the love and mercy of God to millions who starve and are condemned to be non-humans?
Only announcing a vivid and liberating God, allied with the poor and the excluded, can we, without cynicism and in truth, say: He is effectively a good and merciful God. The words of the Exodus were updated for our generation: "I have heard the oppression of my people, I have heard their screams of affliction, I have known their suffering. I have come down to free them...Now go, for I send you to free my people" (Ex 3, 7-10). Those words were addressed to each one of us, to each church, to each conscience which is minimally ethical and humanitarian.
In the seventies, the oppressed were the economic poor, and, for the minimum conditions of life and work, a process of social and political liberation, in the light of faith, was engendered.
In the eighties, the blacks and Indians emerged as the historical oppressed of our peoples, and were encouraged to be subjects of their own liberation.
In the nineties, the emphasis was on the singularity of the oppression of women, who have been subjugated for millennia to the patriarchal system and made invisible in the society. They try to be subjects of history in the same position as men, different and complementary.
All those people scream for life and freedom. Important sections of the historical churches have organized to respond to the scream of the oppressed. And they have done so by the liberating praxis of the grassroots church communities (only in my country there are more than one thousand of them), of the countless centers for defense of the human rights, of the social pastorates for land, housing, health, education and security, through the liberating reading of the Bible done by the poor themselves.
The reflection which has come out of this praxis is called liberation theology. It is the theology of all churches that took the problem of the poor and the excluded seriously. And because of that, it is present not only in Latin America, but also in Africa, in Asia and in the groups committed to the feminist cause and the ecology in the central countries.
The theology of liberation successfully tried to show that the Jewish Christian faith can be an element of social mobilization in function of deep changes in society which can bring more justice, more participation and more dignity to the unjustly humiliated.
A Christian, because he or she is a Christian, can be a real libertarian. We are heirs of someone who, because of his announcement and praxis of liberation was persecuted, jailed, tortured and crucified. His resurrection means an insurrection against this world order which legitimatize prejudices, sacralizes privileges and makes the common living based on justice, caring and compassion impossible.
Not only do the poor scream, but also the water, the animals, the forests, the soils, that is, the Earth as a living super organism, called Gaia. They scream because they are continuously attacked. They scream because their autonomy and intrinsic value are not recognized. They scream because they are threatened with extinction. Every day around 10 species of living beings disappear as a result of man's increasing aggressiveness in the contemporary industrial process.
The same logic explores the classes and subjugates nations, preys upon ecosystems and enfeebles the planet Earth. The Earth, with its impoverished sons and daughters, needs liberation. We all live oppressed under a paradigm of civilization that has exiled us from the community of life, which is related to violence against Nature and which makes us lose the reverence for the sacredness and majesty of the Universe. We have forgotten that we are only a link in the immense current of life and that we are co-responsible for the common destiny of mankind and Earth.
An ecological theology was born out of these perceptions. According to this theology, social injustice becomes ecological injustice because it affects the human beings and the society which are part and parcel of Nature. An environmental theology which cares only for the environment is not enough. We need a social ecology that can re-educate the human being to live and connect cooperatively and fraternally with Nature.
We have made too many interventions in and against Nature. We have modified the physical and chemical basis of Earth. What we urgently need is to modify our mind-set. If we want to save the biosphere and guarantee a prosperous future for all, we need a mental and spiritual ecology. We have too much arrogance in our minds, too much desire for power as domination and tendencies to prejudice, subjugate and destroy others. The project of the technological science that has brought so many benefits to human life has also allowed the birth of the principle of self-destruction. The already-built death machine can devastate all biosphere and make the planetary human project impossible. We need to create, for our turn, the principle of mutual responsibility and caring for all that is and all that lives.
This time we have no Noah's Ark to save some and let the others perish. We want to save ourselves together.
We need to disembowel tendencies that are also present in our minds: solidarity, compassion, caring, communion and loving. Such values and inner powers can lay the foundation of a new paradigm of civilization, the civilization of the humanity reunited in the Common House, on the Planet Earth.
To live such dimensions means to live the true human spirituality. And this spirituality is not monopoly of religions or churches, but the deepest dimensions of the human being. By means of it, we can perceive that all things in the Universe are not just juxtaposed, but inter and retro- connected. One link connects and re-connects everything, consisting of the sacred unity of the Universe. This secret link is the primitive source of all being. It is what all religions call God.
My effort in the last 30 years, as an integral theologian of liberation was to think and re-think, life and pass on this message: Earth and mankind constitute of just one reality. In fact, we human beings are the Earth itself that feels, thinks, loves and venerates. We have the same origin and the same destiny. We are summoned to be not Earth's Satan, but its good Angel. We have reached the crossroads in which we should decide on the future we want. Our mission is to celebrate the greatness of Creation and connect it again to the Core where it came from and to where it will go, with care, lightness, joy, reverence and love.
I thank you the Right Livelihood Award which has consecrated this perspective, because it was seen as beneficent to the future of the poor, of humanity and the system Earth.
Inteview with Leonardo Boff during the John Main Seminar 2012 in Itaici, São Paulo, Brazil.