12 February 2014

How Catholics Influenced Paul Farmer

A recent article from a global health leader provides insights into what influenced his successful work in Haiti.

Dr Paul Farmer, co-founder of the Boston-based Partners in Health, declares in an article for the Christian magazine Sojournersthat two Latin American priests were among his greatest teachers: Archbishop Oscar Romero and Gustavo Gutiérrez.

Farmer was made famous through the book Mountains Beyond Mountains a profile of his work by acclaimed author Tracy Kidder. The community-based health network model that found success in Haiti can be traced back to the theological teachings of the two Catholic priests.

The lessons, Farmer says, came from all types of Catholics, from the priests to those living in poverty. Farmer credits the activists that he met as a young man in the “tough neighborhoods in Boston, the farms of North Carolina, and the slums of Lima” as living the teachings of Liberation theology. He outlines the three lessons that stood out most in his mind: 1) Preferential option for the poor; 2) The existence of structural violence; 3) The power of accompaniment.
Their activism taught me a lot about a space in the Catholic Church I’d not seen clearly before, and about the promise of long-term engagement in the monumental struggle against poverty and discrimination in all its forms. That includes gender inequality, no stranger to the institution. Most of the most inspiring activists were women.
Romero and Gutiérrez are crucial figures in the liberation theology movement within the Catholic Church. Their teachings championed social justice and human rights as central parts of Catholicism. Though it met resistance within the Church and in local politics, ideas such as the preferential option for the poor, a term coined by Gutiérrez, gained wider acceptance.

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