It is not enough for for people to simply give to the poor, the Rev. Gustavo Gutierrez Merino said Wednesday after accepting the 2016 Pacem in Terris Award at Christ the King Chapel, St. Ambrose University, Davenport.

To truly serve the poor, one must be in a relationship with the poor, he said. 

Speaking to more than 300 people who gathered for the ceremony, Gutierrez said, “We are not committed to serving the poor unless we are a friend to the poor.”

Gutierrez, 88, a Peruvian theologian and Dominican priest, is considered by many to be the father of liberation theology, based on his 1971 work, “A Theology of Liberation."

It is through friendship that people become equals, Gutierrez said. And if we first respect a person as an equal, then can we recognize the human dignity of the poor, he added.

The Pacem in Terris Peace and Freedom Award was created in 1964 by the Davenport Catholic Interracial Council. Since 1978, the award has been presented by the Quad-City Pacem in Terris Coalition. The award honors Pope John XXIII and commemorates his 1963 encyclical letter, Pacem in Terris, or Peace on Earth.

Gutierrez became the 44th recipient of the Pacem in Terris Peace and Freedom Award since its inception when it was first given to author John Howard Griffin and posthumously to President John F. Kennedy.

“We have wanted to get him here for a long time for this,” Martin Amos, Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Davenport, said before the ceremony. “He was schedule to be in Chicago today so we were able to arrange to get him here."

Gutierrez had been approved for the honor for two years, but for various reasons he was not able to travel to Davenport until now, said the Rev. Chuck Adam, chaplain and director of campus ministry at St. Ambrose.

After the ceremony, Adam said Gutierrez has had a big influence on Pope Francis because they both share the same approach to the poor.

Pointing to a quote by Gutierrez that was printed on the program for the ceremony, Adam said, “That says it all.”

“If there is no friendship with them (the poor) and no sharing of the life of the poor, then there is no authentic commitment to liberation, because love exists only among equals,” the quote by Gutierrez reads.

“We help the poor by being in a relationship with them,” Adam explained.

Gutierrez is the John Cardinal O'Hara Professor of Theology and teaches systemic theology at the University of Notre Dame. He holds honorary degrees from about 20 universities. Among his honors is the Legion of Honor, given to him by the French government in 1993.

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