Students and faculty spilled into the aisles of a DeBartolo Hall auditorium Monday evening as two renowned experts discussed liberation theology as a means to end poverty.
Harvard professor Paul Farmer, a medical anthropologist, physician and founder of Partners in Health, an organization that provides healthcare and medical treatment to poor people around the world, said people could not end poverty if they did not understand it.
"Real service to the poor involves understanding global poverty," said Farmer. "An understanding of poverty must be linked to efforts of ending it. Poverty is structured evil. Understanding it is not the same as fighting it, but if we believe that knowledge informs practice then we can really make progress."
Notre Dame theology professor Fr. Gustavo Gutierrez agreed that understanding, was a means to end global poverty.
"When we speak about the preferential option for the poor we are speaking about persons, not about poverty," Gutierrez said. "Without fraternity, sympathy and community we have not committed to ending poverty."
Ending poverty is not an easy goal, Farmer said, but it is not impossible.
"As long is there is poverty and inequality, we humans will need accompaniment —practical, spiritual and theological — to understand why and how they work so that we may attempt to eradicate it," Farmer said.
Gutierrez agreed that poverty is not a quick fix.
"Poverty is not a destination, it's a situation," Gutierrez said. "Addressing poverty is not a one-time cure. It's a constant adjustment."
Gutierrez coined the term "liberation theology" in the 1970s, which originated from the Latin American Catholic Church and addresses the poor's ability to embrace suffering with hope just as Christ did.
Gutierrez acknowledged the difficulty of reconciling suffering and the notion that an all-powerful God loves those who suffer.
"The challenge we must face is how to say to poor persons, ‘God loves you,'" Gutierrez said.
Liberation theology, however, is one answer to this challenge, Gutierrez said.
"Theology changes to adapt to the historical demands of the time," Gutierrez said. "It is a reflection of the daily life of a person and of the way to be Christian. Theology acts as the medium between living faith and announced faith."
Farmer said the fight to end poverty should be one of solidarity rather than charity.
"Liberation theology is an inexhaustible font for understanding poverty," Farmer said. "We live in one world, not three. Nothing else I have seen from earthquakes to floods to violence will lead me to believe otherwise."
Farmer emphasized the importance of comprehending poverty's existence before attempting to end it.
"It's not easy to listen," Farmer said. "It's hard and sometimes painful. These experiences tried me in some ways that I cannot forget. I am determined to understand why poverty exists and how it functions in the modern world."
Farmer listened, studied Scripture and derived meaning from what he learned within the Latin American context.
"Poverty is not a result of random acts of nature," Farmer said. "Human beings constitute and create the social world and shape it."
Gutierrez said poverty is an issue that needs to be addressed on every front.
"Poverty means death," Gutierrez said. "For the poor in Latin America and all around the world, this means dying before their time. Death is not only a social issue, not only a matter of a social doctrine; it's more than that — it's a global issue and we need to rethink from the position we are in."
The preferential option for the poor means serving the least fortunate comes before all other concerns, Gutierrez said.
"Preferential means they are first," Gutierrez said. "It does not mean all the poor are good or generous or very gentle. Not all of them are good persons, but because God is good we must work to end their suffering. We are not really in solidarity for the poor unless you are against poverty."