Pedro Casaldáliga

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Pedro Casaldáliga was born in the Catalonian region of Spain. In 1968, as a Claretian missionary priest, he departed for Brazil, where in 1971 he was named titular bishop of São Felix do Araguaia in the Amazonian region of Mato Grosso, a remote region carved out of the jungle to make room for vast plantations. These developments made fortunes for the landowners, but landless peasants were reduced to a state of virtual bondage. Beneath them, barely regarded as human, were the Indigenous peoples. It was to these poor and marginalized that Dom Pedro, as he was called, devoted his ministry. 

With his sandals and straw hat, Dom Pedro was hardly distinguishable from a peasant himself. As he had vowed at his ordination, “You will have no other shield than the strength of the hope and freedom of the children of God, nor will you use any other gloves than the service of love.” Immediately, he declared himself an implacable foe of the rapacious landowners, who denounced him as a communist. During the era of military dictatorship, he was frequently threatened with exile or death. On one occasion, one of his priests was shot by police as he stood beside the bishop. He died in his arms. 

In 1988 he was summoned to Rome to answer questions from the Vatican about his espousal of liberation theology. Although he was asked to sign a document acknowledging various “errors,” he refused and remained in his post until his retirement in 2005, when he continued to serve as an ordinary priest, writing poetry, and espousing a new model of holiness: “contemplative in liberation.” He died on August 8, 2020. 

“Prayer is hope’s breathing. When we stop praying, we stop hoping.”  

—Bishop Pedro Casaldáliga 

Robert Ellsberg

Robert Ellsberg is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Orbis Books and the author of several award-winning books, including All Saints: Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time; Blessed Among All Women; and The Saints' Guide to Happiness.