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Leonardo Boff: Eternal Rebel and Liberation Theologian

by SWR2 Thursday, Nov. 16, 2006 at 5:34 AM
mbatko@lycos.com

Francis called all beings and living organisms brothers and sisters.. Francis lived hundreds of years ago but may be more current than many people nowadays. He is a new person and we are old in the sense of this ecological attitude.

LEONARDO BOFF: ETERNAL REBEL AND LIBERATION THEOLOGIAN

By SWR2

[This article published in 2005 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web, ]

[Leonardo Boff, also called the “eternal rebel,” was born in 1938 – in the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul, the destination of many emigrants from Europe. The Brazilian with South Tirol ancestors became a Franciscan there.]




Later he studied with Karl Rahner in Munich, became a theologian and came to know Joseph Ratzinger, the current Pope Benedict VVII, during his study. In 1970 Boff returned to Brazil. Soon the “option for the poor” attracted him. However the “theology of liberation” that had great influence in Latin America, reaped the vehement criticism of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger who in the meantime was called to be prefect of the Congregation of Faith in Rome. The alleged “fundamental Marxist option of liberation theology” disturbed Ratzinger.

In 1985, the Vatican imposed a one-year “penitential silence” on Boff. The refractory theologian took off his priestly robe when he was condemned in 1992 to a five-year silence. Today he directs SEOP (Project for Popular Education) with his brother Waldemar in Petropolis near Rio de Janeiro. This involves the young “excluded,” the so-called street children. Boff is a professor of ethics, a greatly desired participant at international conferences, a respected commentator on social and political questions and author of many books including “The Earth as Our House. Hearing the Cry of the Oppressed.”

In a radio program, Leonardo Boff said: “Yes, we turn our backs on Latin America and the Indians and turn to face Europe and the US. That is almost the culture and tradition in Brazil. The few who take up the interests of Indians know their colorful culture. I have made many journeys in the Amazon area, worked there in January and February and know a little about this culture. I have always been amazed. They are our great masters in attitudes toward nature. Seen technologically, they are backward. But from a civilization perspective, they are ahead of us and richer than us. If we want to learn about relating to nature, relations between seniors and children, adults and older people, relations between work and leisure time and relations between life and death, they have a great wisdom and have much to say to us. This is important for ecology because Indians live in nature like natural beings. In a natural way, they respect the trees, water and animals. A person is understood as part of nature and belonging to the environment, not above nature or outside nature.

This is direct criticism particularly toward the representatives of ecological thinking in the northern part of the world, in Europe and the US. I have spoken with many people especially in the US, Germany and Norway who are very engaged. They have created groups for the defense of bears, fish and so forth but have no sense for the poor of the world. Poverty should not be understood as an abstract word but rather as the concrete poor who have skin, suffer hunger and cry. This is also the concern of ecology. In my book, I emphasize environmental ecology, social ecology and mental or deep ecology. Human decisions, the attitudes that are culturally structured, are crucial for the renewals of the old in the sense of a new alliance with nature, a certain brotherliness and sisterliness with all living organisms and all beings of nature.

This presupposes a different understanding and a certain alliance, a kind of Franciscan attitude. Francis called all beings and living organisms brothers and sisters. This was not pure rhetoric but a feeling and experience. This experience is very up-to-date today. Francis lived hundreds of years ago but may be more current than many people nowadays. He is a new person and we are old in the sense of this ecological attitude. This criticism must be leveled although concern for bears or the Chinese panda is important. But this can only be the starting point for an integral ecology that basically embraces everything, the earth and the world system.

Sustainable development can only be sustainable if the economic structure is changed. For me, society is important, not development. The society must be sustainable, not the development. Every society is committed to a certain development. This development depends on the culture, a certain tradition and certain desires of the population. Nowadays most societies of the world are not sustainable. How can a development be sustainable if the society is not sustainable and if the earth as a great system is not sustainable any more? These questions are more important for me than the simple question whether sustainable development seen analytically is a thematic of capitalism.”

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