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Center for Action and Contemplation

The Fifth Conversion

Thursday, May 28, 2020


The Fifth Conversion
Thursday, May 28, 2020

The Fifth Conversion to solidarity is a choice to walk with the poor and oppressed, to be taught by them, and to love them as equals, each of us bearing the Divine Indwelling Spirit within.

Although he was raised Roman Catholic and worked with many religious organizations, Paulo Freire rarely used religious language or metaphors to make his point. Yet his teaching on solidarity is fully aligned with the ministry of Jesus: “Conversion to [solidarity with] the people requires a profound rebirth. Those who undergo it must take on a new form of existence; they can no longer remain as they were.” [1]

In his work teaching literacy skills in Brazil and Chile, Freire employed a method of dialogue that created solidarity and transformed systems of injustice. The dialogue enables the “helper” to let go of any personal agenda and allows the needs of the “helped” to be fully told. Eventually a movement towards liberation is born.

Dialogue further requires an intense faith in humankind . . . faith in their vocation to be more fully human. . . . Founding itself upon love, humility, and faith, dialogue becomes a horizontal relationship of which mutual trust between the dialoguers is the logical consequence. [2]

I hope you can see how living out the Gospel is always a process of what Freire calls humanization, [3] a movement toward greater freedom, dignity, inclusivity, and possibility. We are one, and through solidarity we more clearly identify and name the systems that separate us. We find in ourselves and in the other the true “image of God” in which we are created and connected.

The dialogue that leads to solidarity is a way that oppressors and oppressed begin to recognize each other as subjects in their full humanity, as both learn and teach in this active encounter of faith and love. Here is Freire, in his own words:

Dialogue cannot exist without humility.
How can I dialogue if I regard myself as a case apart from others—mere “its” in whom I cannot recognize other “I”s?
How can I dialogue if I consider myself . . . the owner of truth and knowledge . . .?
How can I dialogue if I am closed to—and even offended by—the contributions of others?
Self-sufficiency is incompatible with dialogue.
At the point of encounter [in dialogue] there are neither utter ignoramuses nor perfect sages; there are only people who are attempting, together, to learn more than they now know. [4]

We are all on this journey together and we are all in need of liberation (which might be a better word than salvation). God’s intention is solidarity with, and universal responsibility for, the whole. As Paul taught, “If one part is hurt, all parts share in the pain. If one part is honored, all the parts share in the joy” (1 Corinthians 12:26). Think of Christianity as a giant act of solidarity with the marginalized, and all of creation.

[1] Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, trans. Myra Bergman Ramos, 30th anniv. ed. (Continuum: 2005, ©1970, 1993), 61.

[2] Ibid., 90, 91.

[3] Humanization is the process of liberation in which the oppressed are engaged fully as human beings, as opposed to an “object” or “thing” in service to the oppressor’s possession and control.  See Freire, 44, 49, 67–68.

[4] Freire, 90.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Living School symposium presentation (November 25, 2018), unpublished; and

What Do We Do with Evil?: The World, the Flesh, and the Devil (CAC Publishing: 2019), 69, 82.

Image Credit: Paulo Freire (detail), Centro de Formação, Tecnologia e Pesquisa Educacional (CEFORTEPE), SME-Campinas, Campinas, Brazil.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Conversion to [solidarity with] the people requires a profound rebirth. Those who undergo it must take on a new existence; they can no longer remain as they were. —Paulo Freire
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