IRVING, Texas (CNS) — Dominican Father Gustavo Gutierrez, a Peruvian theologian and one of the principal founders of liberation theology, told a Dallas audience that “poverty is not a destiny, it’s a condition.”

“Poverty is not a misfortune, it’s an injustice,” he said at an Oct. 21 panel discussion in Irving co-hosted by the University of Dallas School of Ministry and the Dominicans’ Southern province.

Dallas Auxiliary Bishop Greg Kelly welcomed the more than 500 people who attended the event, and Dominican Father Tom Condon, the province’s prior provincial, told the audience, “This night may be a little bit disturbing. “It’s a topic that should unsettle us.”

Father Gutierrez, together with Dr. Paul Farmer, humanitarian physician and founding director of Partners in Health, and Dominican Father Bruno Cadore, master of the Order of Preachers, as the Dominicans are known, spoke of the need to understand poverty.

Their conversation was based on the best-selling book “In the Company of the Poor,” which was co-written by Farmer and Father Gutierrez with a preface by Father Cadore.

“Poverty is not only related to money. There is material poverty, of course, but there’s also spiritual poverty, institutional poverty. It’s a complex issue,” said Farmer during the panel discussion.

“All too often we romanticize what it means to love the poor. To love the poor is not a romanticization — it’s a way of life,” he said.

The three spoke of the need to “have a preferential option given to the poor.”

“The question is not to have a preferential option given to the poor because they are more loved by God, but to see that they are the persons who need the most protection,” stressed Father Gutierrez. “To love one poor person is to be Catholic.”

“It is very clear that we must be in solidarity with the poor,” he added.

“We have to consider solidarity is not an action, it’s a way of life,” Father Cadore said. “Nobody has the right to decide that someone, or a group of people, are not part of society. We have to decide to live our life in a way that includes all people.”

Farmer spoke of the need to “not only stand in solidarity, but to provide material solidarity as well.”

But to do that, first “we must speak to the poor. We have to know them. We have to give the floor to those whom we are talking about — to give them the floor and let them talk,” he said.

The panel discussion was moderated by Dominican Sister Barbara Reid, vice president and academic dean at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago.

“We have been talking about the poor quite a bit today, but it is quite important to hear from those we have been speaking about,” she said.

The event was part of a three-day Dominican conference marking the Dominican order’s 800th anniversary. Run by the order’s southern province, formally called the Province of St. Martin de Porres, the conference was organized under the title “Living the Legacy.” More than 250 Dominican friars, sisters and laypeople attended the gathering.

The panel discussion, which was open to the public, was part of the University of Dallas’ Landregan Lecture series.