Camilo Torres’ Mother’s letter to Pope Paul VI (1968)

Camilo Torres and his mother, Isabel Restrepo Gaviria.

Bogotá, 21 August 1968

Holy Father:

I present myself to your Holiness as the mother of the priest Camilo Torres Restrepo.

The universally known case of my son, Camilo Torres Restrepo, reflects a situation of misery, oppression, and exploitation suffered by a majority of our people. It demands a radical change in the economic, political, and social structures of our country.

Camilo believed that his mission, as a Christian and priest, could not be fulfilled without a revolution to liberate the poor, the peasants, the workers, and the intellectuals — indeed, all the oppressed classes. As a consequence, he became a revolutionary and opted to involve himself in the armed struggle. This painful course was imposed on him by the violence practised by the oligarchical classes of my country.

Camilo never preached violence for its own sake. He consistently stated that the ultimate decision belonged to the ruling classes. If they were disposed to abandon peacefully their privileges, the struggle could be peaceful. But, if, as they have demonstrated, they were obstinate in trying to maintain themselves in power, the people would have no other means to defend themselves except armed struggle.

Camilo proclaimed the urgency of liberating the country from imperialist domination. He believed that there could be no basic structural change without freeing ourselves from imperialism, which is an inhuman and un-Christian form of domination.

In essence, Camilo’s thought coincides with what your Holiness later proclaimed in the encyclical Populorum progressio, which impressed the entire world with its profound social significance.

Because of his courageous and constant preaching of these principles, my son Camilo Torres was sacrificed somewhere in the Colombian hills. Like all those who prophesied and sowed the seeds of the renewal of the church, my son had to suffer misunderstanding, personal attacks, and calumny.

I do not pretend to make a defence of my son to your Holiness, who are so profoundly human, whose wisdom has penetrated and pointed out the inequalities which exist between the various sectors of Christianity. I realize how difficult it is to make my mother’s voice penetrate the lofty dignity of your office. But it is significant that it is precisely Colombia — the homeland of Camilo Torres Restrepo, the priest sacrificed for the defence of his humble people, who suffer hunger and thirst for justice — that has been chosen for such a grandiose celebration as the International Eucharistic Congress.

I have suffered this rude shock in silence, without asking any more consolation than that the body of my son be returned to me to render it the pious tribute which the church itself prescribes for her dead. I ask that his remains may repose with mine in a consecrated place.

Why am I denied this elemental right which I have again and again begged of the Colombian government? I do not know, but it is certain that the body of my son lies ignored in some hidden place in Colombia. My sorrow grows in the face of the cruelty of this overwhelming injustice.

Holy Father, forgive me for disturbing the peace of your visit to Colombia with my sad request, but I am certain that with your intercession I shall obtain the supreme and ultimate consolation of recovering the remains of my son, sacrificed on the altar of the purest ideal; the restoration of the doctrine of Christ.

In hopes of your benevolence, I remain your daughter in Christ,

Isabel Restrepo de Torres

[Original source: Isabel Restrepo de Torres, quoted in Germán Guzmán, Camilo Torres, New York, Sheed & Ward, 1969, pp. 260-62 – Ed. ] 
[Translation found in Revolutionary Priest: His Complete Writings and Messages (Latin American Library by Camilo Torres (edited by John Gerassi), pp. 427-427]