Brief Reviews, Midweek Edition, VOLUME 2


A Brief Review of

Dom Helder Camara:
Essential Writings
Edited by Francis McDonagh.

Paperback: Orbis Books, 2009.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

Reviewed by Chris Smith.

DOM HELDER CAMARA: ESSENTIAL WRITINGSEqual parts prophet, priest and poet, Dom Helder Camara was one of the twentieth century’s most striking voices in the cry against the excesses of Western culture.  Unfortunately, today as the crises brought on by our excessive lifestyles in the West only continue to escalate, the life and work of this Brazilian priest is not known well enough.  Thankfully, however, Orbis Books — who has long been the primary publisher of Camara’s works in English translation — has released a wonderful introduction, one of the newest volumes in their “Modern Spiritual Masters” Series.  Dom Helder Camara: Essential Writings was edited by Francis McDonagh, who also wrote a useful introduction to the book, which offers a brief biography and begins to frame a context in which Camara can be understood.  After McDonagh’s introduction, the remainder of the book consists of excerpts from Camara’s works, organized thematically.  The four dimensions of Camara’s writings into which the excerpts here are organized are “A Church of Service and Poverty, “From Paternalism to Liberation,” “Walking with God” and “The Unity of Creation.”  Even those readers who are familiar with the social justice dimensions of Camara’s prose works, might be not be familiar with Camara’s poetic works, many of which embrace themes of unity and peace with creation.  McDonagh provides an excellent introduction to these poetic works in the fourth and final chapter of the book.  Consider this excerpt, for instance, from the poem “Brother Birds”:

Do you think much
of the beauty of your plumes,
the enchantment of your song,
the grace of your flight?
Are you free
from pride and vanity
or must you too
defend yourselves from
these failings that
humiliate us so much?

Indeed, there is much for us to learn from Dom Camara and his deep love for the birds, as well as for all creation.  This new introductory volume from Francis McDonagh and Orbis Books is a wonderful place for us to start to acquaint ourselves with this timely Brazilian prophet.

C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at:

Reading for the Common Good
From ERB Editor Christopher Smith

"This book will inspire, motivate and challenge anyone who cares a whit about the written word, the world of ideas, the shape of our communities and the life of the church."
-Karen Swallow Prior

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