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Claudio Hummes of Brazil

Champion of Workers and the Poor

Sunday, April 3, 2005; Page A40


In 1978, army helicopters buzzed a Sao Paulo stadium where Bishop Claudio Hummes was celebrating Mass.

The overflights were widely seen as an effort by the military officers then ruling Brazil to intimidate Hummes, a prominent voice for democracy. But they had no apparent effect -- Hummes went on speaking out and letting anti-military activists use church facilities.

Claudio Hummes
Claudio Hummes
Cardinal Claudio Hummes (Dario Lopez-Mills - AP)

In the 1990s, with military rule having passed into history, Hummes turned his focus to economic issues.

Working in a society in which a tiny elite holds the vast majority of wealth, he became a leading advocate for the poor and a critic of the U.S.-backed free-market policies that were adopted in much of Latin America.

He has stuck closely to Vatican doctrines prohibiting artificial birth control; he has reprimanded priests who have charged that the church's position against condom use contributes to Brazil's AIDS epidemic.

As such, Hummes's views often mirrored those of Pope John Paul II, who named him a cardinal in 2001, and people here who are close to Hummes suggest he would provide continuity if called to Rome.

Today, at age 70, Hummes heads the archdiocese of Latin America's largest city, Sao Paulo, and is known informally as the spiritual guide of Brazil, the world's most populous Catholic country. Many Brazilians know him simply as Dom Claudio.

The son of German immigrants, he was ordained a Franciscan priest in 1958.

He came to national attention in 1975 after being named bishop of Santo Andre, a blue-collar suburb of Sao Paulo. There he allowed factory workers and unionists to use church facilities for political meetings during Brazil's military dictatorship.

In May 1998 he became archbishop of Sao Paulo. On his first day in that post, he attacked the spread of global capitalism, saying the privatization of state companies and the lowering of tariffs had contributed to the "misery and poverty affecting millions around the world."

"We must find a new alternative, a third way to guarantee economic growth without sacrificing the poor and causing unemployment," he said.

"In my opinion, Dom Claudio is much more progressive than conservative," said Bishop Pedro Luiz Stringhini, an auxiliary bishop under Hummes in the Archdiocese of Sao Paulo. "The idea that he is conservative is more impression than reality."

-- Anthony Faiola

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