Adolfo Pérez Esquivel
Excerpts from Adolfo Pérez Esquivel's 1980 Nobel Peace Prize Lecture

I come before you, having just received the Nobel Peace Prize from so prestigious an academy, in order to share a reflection about my continent and our struggle.

I would like to give thanks to everyone for the invitation to speak in this chamber of high learning. Not only to receive me personally, but by the mark of appreciation, recognition and esteem that this invitation implies with respect to the values and actions which sustain and are the hope and faith of our people in the struggle for justice and respect for the dignity of persons as the necessary condition for attaining true peace.

I come as a man of the people, with humility and steadfastness to share with you this reality that I live and know.

When receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, I said, from the first moment, I do not assume a personal honor, but receive it in the name of the people of Latin America, and most especially in the name of the poor, the most small and needy, the indigenous, the peasants, the workers, the young, and the many thousand members of the religious orders who work in the most inhospitable places of our continent, and of all those persons of goodwill who work and struggle to build a society free from domination.

I would like to turn my attention to the anguish and hopes of our Latin Americans, not as a politician or technocrat in regard to social problems, but as a man identifying with the cause of the people in the daily struggle in defense of human rights and the affirming of values, and as a man who shares their hopes and faith in complete liberation.

In the last decades the Church initiated a new kind of reflection and action: the consideration of faith in regard to the brother or sister who suffers, who is dispossessed, the poor.

It is the faces of our workers, peasants, young, old, indigenous, and children that are the face of our Lord, Jesus Christ, who calls us to the obligation to love our brothers and sisters.

The Latin American bishops, gathered in Puebla de los Angeles in Mexico to assess the Latin American reality, gave thought from this perspective: to assume for the Church an inescapable commitment: The first priority must be the poor.

And from all which stood in the way of reflection on the life of our peoples, there is surging forth a new active theology and way of living the faith.

Thus is assumed a reasoned understanding of faith, an intent to know and explain the desperate reality that we live. The poor will not now be seen as objects of charity, as isolated individuals, but as products of a system of structures of injustice that produce marginalisation, misery, and hunger for our people.

It was a sharing of experiences and apprehending knowledge of this reality in all its aspects and facets. For Christians, faith cannot be foreign to these problems; theology, then, was considered as a reflection of this faith and of the moral force of the Word, for the work of liberation from injustice and from sin, in its structural as well as personal dimension.

Reflection is only a partial understanding of truth if it does not translate itself in practice into commitments to the common good and justice. Truth is not mere abstraction, but something to be done, and is only apprehended when this is realized.

It is this concrete work, which Christians must undertake in great numbers, that will lead to the process of liberation of our people.

Like many other persons and Christian organizations, ours, the Service for Peace and Justice in Latin America—of which as General Coordinator I am the current voice for its work and objectives—tries to encourage and exert our efforts on the path toward achieving a society free from domination that overcomes systems of injustice and inspires the fraternal embrace between humans and the reconciliation with God.

Our voice seeks to be the voice of those who have no voice, of those who are excluded, of the humble and small.

Our hands seek to speak the language of those who labor, to add to the effort to construct a new world solidarity founded on love, justice, liberty and truth.

Our analysis is a direct consequence of this commitment; our practice is the theory and use of non-violence based on the gospel. This is a spirit and a method, the participative power of the struggle for the needs of the most small who are the elect of our Lord, who animates them with His spirit to organize themselves and unite to accomplish their own liberation. It is thus, in this way we are facing our work in Latin America.

I would like now to speak of Latin America, this reality which was defined by the beloved Pope Paul VI as el Continente de la Esperanza, (“the Continent of Hope”).

It seems that in Latin America, as we come wanting to help, we suffer the shock of the contradictions between two models of development of our nations sustained by force and social diversity.

Our Latin American nations have said of our people: “They have taken opportunities to use their talents and to organize themselves and have shown they can succeed to obtain vindication for their just rights.”

The stifling of these rights weighs heavily on this creative capacity and also weighs down the natural economic richness and development of our countries. Latin America lives the anguish of an economically unequal growth that accompanies a development not integral to the participation of the people. This generates conflict that manifests itself in many ways in all parts of our societies.

I speak of situations like that of Bolivia where a military regime pays no heed and oppresses the will of a people.

I speak of Salvador where the general violence, product of structures of domination and injustices with the force of law, seen for decades, compromises today the practical possibility of a peaceful solution.