Brazilian cardinal has safeguarded human dignity, promoted work

By Catholic News Service

SAO PAULO, Brazil (CNS) -- Safeguarding the dignity of the human person by protecting the family and promoting employment has been a constant theme of the pastoral work of Cardinal Claudio Hummes of Sao Paulo.

The 70-year-old Franciscan is known as a peacemaker who has mediated labor disputes, welcomed new Catholic movements into the church without pushing aside older groups, and worked to promote Christian unity and better relations with the Jews.

Brazilian Cardinal Claudio Hummes presides at a Mass for the pope. (CNS photo from Reuters)

A frequent visitor to the Vatican and the preacher of Pope John Paul II's Lenten retreat in 2002, Cardinal Hummes is considered one of the leading Latin American candidates for the papacy in the coming conclave.

From a face-off in the 1970s with Brazil's military government over workers' rights to the more recent creation of church-run job-training centers, the cardinal's commitment to fighting poverty and promoting human dignity has focused on the importance of employment.

At a Christmas 2004 fund-raiser for one of the centers, the cardinal said, "Jesus was born poor among the poor to call our attention to the social injustice that makes a portion of humanity increasingly poor, suffering, humiliated and excluded from sufficient access to the goods of the earth."

The cardinal said that, as Pope John Paul II wrote in his 1981 encyclical on human labor, "Laborem Exercens," work not only creates goods for one's family and society, it also is a way to express one's personality, creativity and potential.

Training workers, creating jobs and guaranteeing decent working conditions, Cardinal Hummes said, are essential factors "in resolving injustice and its consequences, such as poverty and hunger."

Charity is not enough, the cardinal said: "Jesus, who was born poor, teaches us to care for the poor with love, intelligence and efficiency."

Cardinal Hummes was invited to be the keynote speaker at the Vatican's March commemoration of the Second Vatican Council document on the church in the modern world, the key text for explaining the church's commitment to justice and to bringing Gospel values to bear on economic, social and political life.

The cardinal told the conference that while the Catholic Church is called to promote unity, progress and dialogue, "a servant church must have as its priority solidarity with the poor."

Solidarity is essential for peace because it "corrects injustices, re-establishes the basic rights of persons and nations, defeats poverty, combats the revolts that injustice provokes, reduces the violence revolt gives birth to and builds peace," he said.

Cardinal Hummes also told the conference that in order to serve the world and show it the path to salvation, the church must be in dialogue with the world, with politicians and economists, with members of other religions and with scientists.

The church must "know how to listen, debate, discern and assimilate all that is good and true, just and humanly worthy" in the position of others as well as to share with them the fullness of truth found in the Gospel, Cardinal Hummes said.

"However, this always must be a dialogue and not the imposition of the church's convictions and methods," he said. The church must "propose and not impose, serve and not dominate."

The call to follow Christ, to participate in the life of the church and to feed the poor are recurring themes in the weekly column Cardinal Hummes writes for his archdiocesan newspaper and Web site. He also posts his personal e-mail address on the site.

When he was named archbishop of Sao Paulo in 1998, he asked for a chance to show all the people in the teeming archdiocese that he would be their bishop.

After the Vatican accepted the resignation of his predecessor, Cardinal Paulo Evaristo Arns, many bishops jokingly said that the next archbishop would be known as "the martyr." Sao Paulo is not only the largest Brazilian diocese and the second-largest in Latin America, but also covers a sprawling metropolis filled with all the problems imaginable in a city in which the very rich commute to work in helicopters, while poor children starve to death in the streets.

"Of course, anybody would experience some kind of fear in front of this task," Cardinal Hummes said when his appointment was announced, "but I am planning to face it with the help of God."

The cardinal also focused on the need for God's help when he was invited to preach Pope John Paul's 2002 Lenten retreat, an invitation usually seen as a sign of papal favor.

"Even in our pastoral activities, many times we act as if everything depended on us and our human resources," he told the pope and Vatican officials.

But no church plan or project can have success unless it is God's will: Like Jesus, all disciples must spend hours in prayer and contemplation to discern God's will, he said.

"We cannot run the risk of paying more attention to human interests than to those of God, forgetting to verify things with him as sons who must take on the interests of their heavenly Father," Cardinal Hummes said.

During the retreat and in remarks to reporters, Cardinal Hummes also underlined the importance of dialogue and intense listening as the church tries to share the Gospel with modern men and women.

"The church knows it must dialogue, it must listen to all cultures, schools of thought and religions," he told reporters. At the same time, "the church knows it must be a point of reference, a firm point" in a world that many experience as changing so quickly that nothing is certain anymore.

A child of German immigrants, Claudio Hummes was born in Montenegro, in the Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul, Aug. 8, 1934, and was ordained a Franciscan priest Aug. 3, 1958. After serving as superior of the Franciscan province of Rio Grande do Sul and president of the Latin American Franciscan Council, he was appointed coadjutor bishop of Santo Andre in March 1975 and became head of the diocese that December.

In the blue-collar diocese, where Volkswagen and Ford had their largest Latin American plants, Cardinal Hummes gained pastoral experience among laborers and on several occasions played the role of mediator between the companies and their unions.

In the late 1970s, he opened the doors of churches as a refuge for those hunted by the military regime.

In 1996, he was appointed archbishop of Fortaleza and strengthened his fame as a peacemaker, this time by opening the doors to new Catholic movements, such as the charismatics, without generating tensions among the more progressive basic Christian communities.

Pope John Paul named him to the College of Cardinals in 2001.


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