WASHINGTON, D.C. — Father Pablo Richard Guzman, one of the fathers of liberation theology and a Bible scholar, died Sept. 20 at age 81 in Costa Rica.
In the 1970s, Guzman — along with other priests such as Dominican Father Gustavo Gutierrez, Franciscan Father Leonardo Boff, Jesuit Fathers Juan Luis Segundo, Jon Sobrino and Ignacio Ellacuria — marked the Catholic landscape in Latin America with their writings, saying that Jesus called for liberation from oppression as well as from sin.
Guzman, a prolific writer on a variety of topics — including religion and politics, socialism, the poor, as well as the Bible — was exiled to France in the 1970s following the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet in his native Chile.
“I’ve been accused of being a terrorist, a Marxist, a communist,” he told Catholic News Service in 2015 when he attended the beatification of St. Oscar Romero in El Salvador.
A year before Romero was assassinated, he visited Costa Rica, where Guzman had settled after his exile in France, and the two met in April 1979. Guzman gave him a book and, even though Romero has been incorrectly labeled by others as a follower of liberation theology, Guzman said it was Romero who “influenced us.”
In Costa Rica, Guzman was one of the founders of the Ecumenical Department of Investigations, a formation center for pastoral ministers in San José, but in the evenings he fed the poor and worked with AIDS patients and people with addictions.
“I want to listen to those no one will listen to, touch those no one will touch and ultimately, I want to give them love. My parish is the street,” he told CNS.
He was a distinguished and sought-after Bible scholar in Latin America, after having studied in Rome and Jerusalem, but his passion was to get others to crack open the holy book. He joked about not using it solely “as a deodorant, only under your arm.”
“I don’t want to just place a Bible in a person’s hand, but I also want to put the Bible in their heart and in their thoughts,” he told CNS.
For Amerindia, a Latin American Catholic website focused on the option for the poor, he wrote one of his last pieces, on April 10, 2020, addressed to those suffering because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“The God of life appears defeated. Those who shout ‘Where is God?’ receive no answer. Is God dead? No, he is alive, and lives in those who fight against the coronavirus. God is not dead, he is fighting for life,” he wrote.