Dedication that means more than location

  • Leading by example in many lands Social activism and service to the poor are common threads in stories from Brazil, the U.S. and Cuba being gathered into a book to educate future leaders. Image Credit: Flickr / mgarbowski

  • Leading by example in many lands Social activism and service to the poor are common threads in stories from Brazil, the U.S. and Cuba being gathered into a book to educate future leaders. Image Credit: Flickr / Jim Forest

  • Leading by example in many lands Social activism and service to the poor are common threads in stories from Brazil, the U.S. and Cuba being gathered into a book to educate future leaders. Image Credit: Flickr / Jim Forest

Dedication that means more than location

Legacies of service and empathy that cut across geographies are coming together in a set of intercultural seminars conducted by universities from the United States and Brazil.

DePaul University in Chicago and Pontifícia Universidade Católica (PUC) in Rio de Janeiro— are working with the Fetzer Institute’s support to document and share the lessons of three remarkable leaders while examining common threads in their approaches.

The study focuses on three figures who came from different cultures, yet demonstrated remarkably similar approaches:  Dom Helder Câmara, a Brazilian bishop who worked for the poor and for human rights; Felix Varela, a Cuban priest who worked for peace and interreligious dialogue; and Dorothy Day, an American laywoman an activist and peace builder who worked with the poor. 

Câmara founded Brazil’s Bishops Conference and was a pioneer of a core Catholic social justice teaching known as the Preferential Option for the Poor.  He was an activist in defense of human rights during a severe military dictatorship. He recalled, “When I fed the hungry, they called me a saint.  When I asked why people are hungry, they called me a communist.”

Varela was a Cuban diocesan priest, educator and scientific researcher in the fields of philosophy, education, journalism, physics, and mathematics.  Although a national hero who stood up against the Spanish crown and against the practice of slavery, he was later exiled to New York City. Nonetheless, he said, “Love is the heart of Christianity.  If by telling the truth I attract hatred, this is but another reason to continue speaking.”

Day founded the Catholic Worker movement in New York City during the Great Depression.  She was a journalist, peacebuilder, mystic and advocate for the poor.  She was a pioneer of early Liberation Theology, and the movement she founded created shelters for the homeless and unemployed all over the United States.  Day once said:  “Why do we make saints of those who minister to the poor and the slaves rather than those who try to change the institutional and economic structures that give rise to poverty and slavery?”

This project builds on two years of collaboration between professors and students of the two universities.  Along with meetings in Chicago, Miami and Rio de Janeiro to study the inspirational leaders, a bilingual book on the three will be produced and distributed.

This is a project of the Fetzer Advisory Council on the Humanities.