May Day in 1983 will always remain indelibly etched on my memory. It was my first Saturday in Brazil, in the middle of a period of military dictatorship in that country, and I was taken to visit some theologians working with base ecclesial communities in São Paulo. I recall entering a large building which served as a community centre for one of the shanty towns on the periphery of this enormous city. Inside there were about forty men and women listening to a woman expound the first chapter of the book of Revelation. She was standing at a table at which were sitting two men. Her lecture was constantly interrupted by her audience sharing their experience of situations parallel with that of John on Patmos: witness, endurance, and tribulation. One man who had been active in trade unions spoke with me after the meeting describing the way in which the book of Revelation spoke to his situation: he had been imprisoned without trial, and a Church which had seemed so irrelevant and remote had become a shelter and inspiration for his life. There was an atmosphere of utter comprehension of, and accord with, John's situation, as trade union activists, catechists and human rights workers shared their experiences of persecution and harassment as a result of their work with the poor and marginalised. They found in John a kindred spirit as they sought to understand and build up their communities in the face of the contemporary beast of poverty and oppression. It was readily apparent as I listened to their eager attempts to relate Revelation to their situation that they had discovered a text which spoke to them because they had not been desensitised by an ordered and respectable life of accommodation and assimilation. The woman and one of the men at the front of the meeting were teachers at the local seminary and the other man the local Roman Catholic bishop. They had been conducting a regular training day for representatives from the hundreds of base ecclesial communities who had gathered for training in Scripture and its interpretation.
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