Cardinal Claudio Hummes of Brazil dies at 87

Claudio Hummes, the Roman Catholic cardinal who sided with striking workers in their fight against Brazil’s military dictatorship and who some believed might have become the first Latin American pope in history before Francis received the honor, has died. He was 87.

One of Brazil’s most important religious leaders, Hummes, died Monday “after a long illness which he had to endure with patience and faith in God,” Cardinal Odilo Scherer, the Archbishop of Sao Paulo, said in a statement.

Hummes was a close associate of Francis, an Argentine, with whom he shared South American roots and a special concern for the poor, the Amazon rainforest and indigenous peoples. The Brazilian is said to have whispered words of encouragement when it became clear that then-Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio was about to be elected to the throne of St. Peter at the 2013 Conclave of Cardinals, inspiring him to choose “Francis”. as its papal name after St. Francis of Assisi.

“A great friend, a great friend,” Pope Francis said of Hummes at his first press conference after being chosen to succeed Pope Benedict XVI. “When things started to get a bit dangerous, he cheered me on. And when the vote reached two-thirds, the usual applause, since the Pope had been elected, began.

“He hugged me, kissed me and said, ‘Don’t forget the poor.’ Those words are burned into my memory.”

A lifelong cleric, Hummes shot to national prominence in the 1970s as a staunch advocate of human rights and social justice under Brazil’s repressive right-wing military regime. He supported and protected publicly striking metalworkers, one of whom, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, would become the nation’s first left-wing president a quarter century later.

“His unconditional love for his neighbor made him always stand on the side of the poor, even in the most adverse situations,” said Lula, who is running for president again in October. wrote on Twitter on Monday.

International attention turned to Hummes in 2005 after the death of the man who had made him cardinal, Pope John Paul II. A veteran Vatican insider, Hummes, then 70, quickly became one of the most talked about candidates for the post Takeover of the papacy, supported by those who saw him as a leader able to heal some of the church’s internal divisions and prop up the faithful in impoverished Latin America, home to half of all the world’s Catholics.

“He is a man of dialogue who has a clear inclination towards the poor,” said Frei Betto, a Dominican friar and social activist, at the time.

“He respects both liberation theology and Opus Dei,” Betto said, referring to liberal and conservative currents within the Catholic Church. He described Hummes as “a moderate with a social sensitivity”.

Cardinal Claudio Hummes celebrates the Mass

Cardinal Claudio Hummes celebrates Mass in Sao Paulo Cathedral in April 2005.

(Alexandre Meneghini/Associated Press)

In the end, Hummes’ fellow cardinals elected German-born Joseph Ratzinger, one of John Paul’s closest associates, as the new pope, disappointing those who had hoped for a pope from the developing world.

Hummes worked from 2006 to 2011 for the new Pope Benedict as Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy, the Vatican office responsible for priestly training and development. He left the job because of age limits.

In Sao Paulo, the largest city in South America and the industrial powerhouse of Brazil, Hummes’ long service as bishop and cardinal earned him a reputation as an energetic, fair, and approachable leader who cared deeply for his flock and knew the priests of the diocese by name .

But he was also a reserved figure, intellectually and intellectually, as familiar with his books as with people. He lived the simple life one would expect of a member of the Franciscan Order and, in addition to Latin, spoke at least four languages ​​- Portuguese, French, German and Italian.

A prolific writer, Hummes has often spelled out the need for the church to remain socially relevant by engaging with science and modern technology, as in the debate over stem cell research.

He also spoke of the need to be more active in reaching out to Catholics whose only contact with the Church was through birth, marriage and death, or who had left Catholicism for the evangelical-Protestant sects that were growing in popularity in Latin America.

“‘They were baptized in our churches – they are our children and we must take care of them,'” Monsignor Dario Bevilacqua, one of Hummes’ assistants, once quoted his boss as saying. Hummes, he said, lamented “how we Catholics have lost the habit of evangelising.”

Hummes’ own religious education began when he was a young boy. Auri Afonso Frank Hummes was born on August 8, 1934 to a family of German immigrants in southern Brazil and was enrolled in a seminary at the age of 9.

Continuing his religious studies, he took Claudio as his religious name and was ordained a priest five days before his 24th birthday. Hummes went on to earn a Ph.D. in Rome, then worked in various church offices in his native state of Rio Grande do Sul until 1975, when he received the assignment that would put him in the national limelight.

The hard-nosed suburb of Santo Andre on the outskirts of Sao Paulo was already a major manufacturing hub when Hummes first bumped into town, a newly minted bishop in a beat-up old car.

“It was a used Volkswagen Beetle,” said Father Antonio Moura, Humme’s closest collaborator for the next 21 years. “It was kind of embarrassing. He said, ‘I can go anywhere in this car – I don’t need anything fancy.’ And he always drove himself.”

Hummes soon began visiting the metalworkers, who, despite the military regime, were organizing strikes demanding better wages and more freedom. Despite his naturally humble nature, Hummes came out with the following message in August 1976: “It’s time for politics.”

In 1978 and 1979 he was vocal in support of the workers and once refused to act as mediator in the conflict. “The church cannot play the role of mediator because it stands firmly behind one side – that of the workers,” he said.

In 1980 the government cracked down and arrested more than a dozen union leaders. Hummes responded by opening Santo Andre’s churches, including its intricately painted cathedral, as sanctuaries, giving the movement a place to meet and hide from riot police on more than one occasion.

In sermon after sermon, Hummes preached the workers’ right to dignity and even allowed their most ardent representative, Lula, the future president of Brazil, to make political speeches during the fairs. As a spiritual shepherd, Hummes once led a football stadium full of persecuted workers by praying the Lord’s Prayer.

“It was the church that allowed us to stay organized,” Jair Meneguelli, a former labor leader, once recalled in an interview with The Times. “I’m looking [Hummes] as heroic. In such a difficult moment as during the military dictatorship, he did not hesitate to open the umbrella of ecclesiastical protection to those most in need.”

The workers’ strikes helped overthrow military rule in 1985. In 1996, Hummes was appointed Archbishop of the northern capital, Fortaleza. After more than two decades in Santo Andre, he took only two suitcases with clothes.

In 1998 he returned to Sao Paulo as Archbishop.

Although he would not regain the national fame he enjoyed in the 1970s and 1980s, Hummes remained committed to the workers of Brazil and helped set up an employment center to help Sao Paulo’s growing ranks of unemployed.

His advocacy for the oppressed apparently aligned him with left-wing clergy who supported liberation theology, a Marxist-tinged current within the church that Pope John Paul II opposed and sought to root out. But Hummes spoke out against theology, saying that the church should not be tied to any particular political ideology.

In 2001 he was made a cardinal.

When St. Peter’s throne became vacant in 2005, many religious commentators felt that electing Hummes to fill it would give the church a more forgiving leader, willing to listen to dissent, and a more collegial, decentralized power structure within the Vatican when it existed under John Paul II.

But after the College of Cardinals elected Ratzinger, Hummes joined his colleagues in expressing his support for the new pope.

When Benedict announced his resignation in 2013, Hummes was no longer one of the leaders on the way to the pope. But in Francis he had a like-minded new leader.

Hummes is to be buried in Sao Paulo Cathedral. Cardinal Claudio Hummes of Brazil dies at 87

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