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In the Company of the Poor launches at ND

JACK ROONEY | Wednesday, November 20, 2013


A standing-room-only crowd attended Tuesday evening’s book launch for “In the Company of the Poor: Conversations with Dr. Paul Farmer and Fr. Gustavo Gutiérrez,” which focuses on liberation theology and the experiences of these famous figures. 

The event, in the McKenna Hall Auditorium, centered on a discussion between Farmer, Gutiérrez, Orbis Books Editor-In-Chief Robert Ellsberg and Ophelia Dahl, cofounder (with Farmer) of the non-profit global health organization Partners in Health. The event was also streamed live over the Internet to dozens of college campuses nationwide through the work of Notre Dame’s Kellogg Institute for International Studies. 

University President Fr. John Jenkins, who wrote the introduction to the book, introduced Farmer and Gutiérrez at the event, praising their work and their dedication to a “preferential option for the poor.”

“Paul Farmer and Fr. Gustavo are men of rare hope and generosity whose example inspires the prayer and work of thousands worldwide,” Jenkins said. “One is a physician animated by a powerful understanding of God’s relationship to the most vulnerable among us; the other, a priest and scholar whose intense spiritual journey and devotion to the poor began in childhood. They are both healers, doctors of body and soul.”

Fr. Jenkins also said Gutiérrez, a professor in the theology department, is “the father of liberation theology.”

The book itself came about as a result of conversations between Farmer and Gutiérrez when Farmer visited Notre Dame, though their friendship dates back to the 1980s when they met while Farmer was working in Peru. 

“This has been a profoundly positive experience writing this book with Fr. Gustavo … and it began right here at Notre Dame,” Farmer said. 

Farmer said Gutiérrez provided Farmer him with the inspiration to enter into the field of social justice medicine. 

“[Gutiérrez] has been a wellspring of inspiration all before I met him. As I said the last time I was [at Notre Dame], you don’t have to be friends with Fr. Gustavo … to read him,” Farmer said. 

Ellsberg, editor-in-chief for the publishing company behind the book, also said Gutiérrez inspired him. 

“It was really the death of Oscar Romero in 1980 that turned my attention to Latin America and the fact that something extraordinary was happening down there,” Ellsberg said. “I decided to go to Latin America and it was there where I first read [Gutiérrez’s book] ‘A Theology of Liberation’ and it absolutely blew my mind.”

Dahl, the daughter of famed author Roald Dahl, said the book reflected the work she and Farmer have done with Partners in Health, where she still serves as executive director. 

“The partnership that it took to create this book is echoed and amplified by so many other partnerships that [Partners in Health] have been able to be a part of, including the students here,” Dahl said. 

Farmer addressed the issue of disease and illness in poor communities when asked about Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) by a current Notre Dame student. 

“All diseases that affect the poor are neglected,” Farmer said. 

Farmer said his advice to students is to take advantage of the potential mentors around them. 

“When you have teachers or spiritual masters or guides around you … seize the opportunity. Learn from them by talking to them … and by reading what they write,” he said.

Steve Reifenberg, executive director of the Kellogg Institute for International Studies, concluded the event by quoting a statement from Archbishop Desmond Tutu about the book. 

“Rarely have two such distinctive and complementary voices been raised together with more heartwarming and instructive results than here in ‘In the Company of the Poor,'” he said. “This book is erudite, fresh and even witty. It draws in a lovely way on a deep friendship between a physician and a theologian.”

Contact Jack Rooney at [email protected]