The Gospel With Dom Helder Camara, (Darton Longman & Todd, £3.95).
ONE of the blessings of my life is that, just now and then, it has allowed me a brush with true greatness. I was not much more than a schoolboy when I emerged in an awed daze from the Cathedral in pre-war Munich. Terrible years were to supervene before I fully absorbed the privilege of having actually listened to Cardinal Faulhaber standing up to Hitler.
Decades later, in one of my peregrinations around Latin America, I popped into Mass at Santos in Brazil. Later I was extolling to friends the rather small but unforgettable padre whose sermon, in Portuguese which I could only half follow, had even so left me marvelling. "Oh — that must have been Dom Helder — he's down here this week from Recife".
This book repeats the experience: It also repeats and epitomises that joy when the Gospels' familiar and deeply loved passages are followed and elucidated by a sermon identifying them with our own recent or recurrent experience.
Where I now go to Mass it happens with satisfying regularity; yet I try never to fail in my thanks to whichever priest is responsible for thus relating
our ephemeral to God's eternal and absolute.
Today I thank Dom Helder, and his publisher. The Gospel With Dom Helder Camara is exactly what it says. Each of its 60 "chapters" begins with a familiar gospel reading, often a parable. Dom Helder then follows it with his own little "homily" — save that it is more of an aside, a chat among friends. Always it rests on his own day-to-day experience, in a
way which lends Christ's parables their personal threedimensional life. Mustard-seeds, grains of corn, vineyardworkers, a good thief — all have a place. A prostitute from the stews of modern Rio de Janeiro is sister to one from scripture. Both are as much a child of God as was for a younger Dom Helder the bikinied "girl from Ipanema", risen dripping from the surf, on whose young beauty he enthused to his initially eyebrow-raising but quickly reassured cardinal.
This book's introduction thanks Dom Helder for making us aware of his own "third world". Yet his commentaries make us equally aware of another third world, of the heart and spirit, as desolate in our "first world" as in his "third world". Both worlds form an intertwined double-helix, as much blood-brothers as he sees his own ragged Antonio-thecarpenter, whom he promptly wangles from misery into a decent livelihood by a recommendation in the most saintly and forgiveable play-onwords, a truly whitest of lies.
It is impossible to read this book without emotion and Affection and — may one say "a preferential love for the poor" whom he himself loves so much.