“Humble people” – a tribute and a reflection

Ademilson Eudócio, Family of Retreatants
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By LEONARDO BOFF*

The meaning of Chico Buarque's song goes beyond the meaning he himself wanted to give

“Gente humble” is a song by Chico Buarque made in partnership with others. Of his vast and complex work, this song is for me the most beautiful and meaningful. She talks about the desires that animate liberation theology that gives centrality to “humble people” and recognizes in them a historical force, little valued by social analysts. I want to honor him on his 80th birthday with a small reflection based on this song. Everything is true in her.

The true and identifying things of people are realized beyond reflex consciousness. These are forces that act from the depths of life and the universe, from the abyssal unconscious and from ancestral archetypes that emerge into people's consciousness and through them announce themselves and emerge in history. I say this to overcome a certain interpretation that gives absolute value to the subject and the conscious meaning he intends to give to his work.

The meaning of Chico Buarque's production goes beyond the meaning that he himself perhaps wanted to give it. He certainly does not intend to have a monopoly on the meaning of the reality he sings and describes. There are multiple facets of meaning that can be captured by listeners and readers, who then become co-authors of the work. I transcribe the song “Gente Humilde”

“There are certain days when I think about my people
And I feel like my whole chest is tightening
Because it seems to happen suddenly
Made a wish for me to live without noticing me
Just like them when I pass through the suburbs

I very welcome by train from somewhere
And then it makes me jealous of these people
That goes forward
Without even having anyone to count on

They are simple houses with chairs on the sidewalk
And on the facade it is written above that it is a home
On the balcony sad and empty flowers
With the joy that has nowhere to touch

And then I feel sadness in my chest
Made despite me not being able to fight
And I, who don't believe, ask God for my people
They are humble people, I want to cry.”

As a theologian and for 50 years walking with both feet, one in academia and the other in poor circles, I consider this work by Chico Buarque to be the most moving and perfect. It marvelously translates two realities.

The first, “of humble people”, of their complete social helplessness. There is no one for them. They go forward with their little strength, without counting on anyone, not the State, not society closed in on its class-exclusive interests, sometimes not even the churches, although a portion of the Catholic Church has made an option for the poor, against their poverty and for their liberation.

But they usually only count on God and themselves. The houses, when they have them, are simple, with chairs on the sidewalk, from where they see the world and share friendships. They have a high ethical sense and a sacred sense of family. The house is poor, but it is “a home”. Sad, stunted flowers, similar to them, adorn the house, but discreet joy and serenity reign.

The second reality that the song translates with fine ethical and psychological perception is the reaction of those who are not “simple people” but are sensitive, human and supportive of this condition humane, in this case, by Chico Buarque, Vinicius de Morais and Garoto, co-authors of the lyrics and music. The composer thinks “of my people”, that is, for Chico Buarque, they exist and are there, when for so many they are not only invisible but also do not exist or are shamefully despised.

He notices the difference in social status: he comes very well by train; them, safely on foot, walking a lot. His “chest tightens”, he would like to live like them, anonymous, without being noticed. Even more: he is “envious of these people” for their courage to face life alone, fight and survive without anyone to help.

And then solidarity and compassion emerge in the noble sense of the term: how can we help and be with them? The feeling of impotence emerges, “the sadness in […] the chest/ like a spite of […] not being able to fight”.

Liberation Theology, which still involves thousands of Christians on various continents, began when faced with this situation reported by Chico Buarque. These Christians made a liberating commitment, trusting in “humble people” and their historical strength. But the wound is too big. Our generation or the next may not be able to close it. A feeling of impotence plagues us, but without ever losing hope that another world is possible and necessary.

It is then that we turn to the last reference. There must be Someone, master of the world and the course of things, who can fix this humiliation. Even someone who does not believe, but who has not lost their sense of humanity, perceives the liberating meaning of the category “God”. And then, with uncontained emotion, the poet sings: “And I, who don’t believe, ask God for my people/ they are humble people, I want to cry”.

Impotence is overcome because the emotion of the heart triumphs. God is invoked, desperately, as the ultimate source of meaning. In the face of humble, suffering, anonymous people, all disbelief would be cynicism, all indifference, inhumanity. The final effect is the same: “it makes you want to cry”. And we cry or discreetly wipe away tears of emotion, indignation and compassion.

There isn't a time when I listen to this song that tears don't come to my eyes, because the truth is so much and the feeling is so true that the only worthy reaction is tears which, according to Saint Paul, is a gift of the Holy Spirit. This is pure humanism, also witnessed by Jesus of Nazareth who was moved by his people abandoned like sheep without a shepherd.

And here is a theologian's reflection on Chico Buarque's “non-belief”, said in this song. We need to discern and identify which is the true belief and which is false. This becomes clear when we become aware of the true meaning of “God” and where He allows Himself to be found under other names.

There are those who say they don't believe, but they care about “simple people”, are sensitive to justice and refuse to accept the perverse world they encounter. And there are those who believe in God but do not even see “simple people” and are insensitive to social injustice and calmly fit into the perverse world in which they find themselves.

Where is God? Which side is He on? From everything we learn from the prophets and Christian reflection, God is infallibly on the side of those who approach “simple people”, commit themselves to justice and are filled with sacred wrath against this perverse world. This is because the true name of God is justice, solidarity and love.

Whoever has God continually on his lips and professes Him in his words but distances himself from “humble people”, turns a blind eye to the demands of justice and is not bothered by solidarity, is far from God and lacking his grace. The God you believe in is nothing more than an idol because there is no love, solidarity and justice.

Chico Buarque placed himself, without intending to, on the side of the living and true God because he placed himself on the side of “humble people”. His engagement places him unfailingly on God's side and at the heart of his project for a Kingdom of love, justice and peace.

Even more. In the afternoon of life, when everything will be decided, the criterion will be, according to Jesus (see the Gospel of Saint Matthew 25, 41-46), how much we have been sensitive to the “humble people”, to the hungry, the thirsty, the poor and the penalized in our history. Those who did so will hear the words of infinite bliss: “it was to me that you did it”; “Come therefore, blessed by my Father, and take possession of the Kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.”

For me, “Humble People” would be enough to immortalize Chico Buarque in the hearts of all those who do not pass by the fallen on the road, but stop like Samaritans, suffer and cry together. Chico Buarque lived the same experience as his patron Francisco de Assis. This experience transformed him from the son of a rich merchant to a friend and companion of the poorest of the poor, lepers. He spoke of them as his “poverella people”, humble people from Tuscany. Bourgeois and member of “jeunesse dorée” which he was, he dropped everything and became poor like them. It was simply called “the poverello of Assisi.”

And now I say as a theologian: behind these “humble people” of all “poverellos” hides the Son of God. Dignifying “humble people”, as Chico Buarque did, is rescuing the best of the humanistic heritage of our history and of the historical Jesus who saw in the poor, the first heirs of his dream. He was always on the side of the blind, the lame, the psychologically affected (possession, in the language of the time) and he also became poor.

To live this dimension you don’t need to be religious or believe in God. Logically, if you are religious and believe in God, you will be reinforced. But it is not essential. Just be human, a lover of justice and a singer of love. This is where authentic religion is realized and there the true God is found.

*Leonardo Boff He is a theologian, philosopher and writer. Author, among other books, of Sustainability: What it is – What it is not (Vozes). [https://amzn.to/4cOvulH]


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