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VATICAN
from issue no. 05 - 2009

An Interview with Brazilian Cardinal Cláudio Hummes

When we went with Lula among the workers


A meeting with the Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy: from his first visit to Rome as a student to the years spent close to the future president of Brazil in the battles for workers’ rights. From his work for the rebirth of the Brazilian seminaries up to the present post that he has held for two and a half years. In expectation of the Year of the Priesthood


Interview with Cardinal Cláudio Hummes by Pina Baglioni


When Pope Benedict XVI called him to Rome as head of the Congregation for the Clergy, one of the most authoritative Italian Vatican experts described Cardinal Cláudio Hummes, then archbishop of São Paulo in Brazil, as “a leading figure in the worldwide Church”, noting that “a world champion Brazil” would be arriving with him in the Curia.
Two and a half years have already passed since his arrival in Rome. And precisely on 19 June 2009, the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, began the “Year of the Priest” announced by the Pope in mid-March, during the audience given to the participants in the plenary assembly of the Congregation for the Clergy.
Cardinal Hummes agreed to receive us in his office at the Palazzo delle Congregazioni. Where, alongside portraits of Benedict XVI and Pius XI hanging on the walls, one is struck by a beautiful statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe done in extraordinarily vivid colors. “I found it here when I arrived,” says the Cardinal. “And it made me very glad.”

Cardinal Cláudio Hummes

Cardinal Cláudio Hummes

Your Eminence, you lived in Rome between 1959 and 1962 as a student. What do you remember of that first period in Rome?
CLÁUDIO HUMMES: When I arrived in Rome for the first time in 1959 the Holy City made a huge impression on me: everything I had studied, imagined, I found there before my eyes. As a Franciscan, I went to study philosophy at the Antonianum and, while living a monastic life, from time to time I went to visit the sites of Christian memory and imperial Rome. I was twenty-five and I had been ordained just a year before. Then I started to feel a mystical reverence for this city. A deep feeling that I still have because Rome has remained the same, in its religious and historical essence, despite many years having passed. But that period was important to me also because I found myself living the early days of Vatican II, which had just opened. Coming from Brazil I had not the slightest idea of what was about to happen. And it was really exciting. Among other things I would have liked to study the Holy Scriptures and Canon Law. Instead my superior ‘steered’ me towards Philosophy. I was deeply taken by the thinking of St Augustine but at the Antonianum I studied modern and especially contemporary philosophy: Marx, Heidegger, the French Existentialists. Just at that time Neo-scholasticism was coming in, particularly the sort illuminated by Kant’s transcendental thinking. In short, the change of direction was to prove providential for me because it helped me get a better grasp of the profound changes that the Council was bringing into the sphere of theological reflection. That experience turned out very useful to me once back in Brazil. Where, in addition to teaching philosophy, in 1968 I had to deal with ecumenism. Before Vatican II, ecumenism was primarily an initiative of the Protestant Churches, proposed by Protestant missionaries in Africa and Asia, already in the second half of the nineteenth century. In that context disputes had arisen concerning the scandal of the division of the Christian Churches. In the Council, the Catholic Church also began to feel the ecumenic urgency. And then, in 1968, the Brazilian Bishops’ Conference sent me to Switzerland to specialize in ecumenism at the Ecumenical Institute of Bossey in Geneva.
Can you tell us why an influential professor of philosophy at a certain point finds himself dealing with workers’ rights, with unions, with workers’ assemblies in the factories?
HUMMES: Those were exciting years: I realized what the poor and oppressed are. The real ones, in flesh and blood. Something that until then, as philosophy professor, for me was not so obvious. In 1975 I was appointed bishop of the diocese of Santo André, a large industrial zone on the outskirts of São Paulo, with about 250,000 metalworkers, the headquarters of multinational companies and carmakers such as Volkswagen. At that time Brazil was in the grip of military dictatorship and any hint of mobilization in defense of workers’ rights was considered subversive and repressed with violence.
It was in those years that the figure of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva began to emerge as a great trade union leader. He worked in San Bernardo, a working-class district in my diocese. I met him in those years and we worked together because the diocese of Santo André immediately sided with this new nonviolent unionism, whose claims we considered just. Together with Lula, I also had stones thrown at me because I often accompanied him to rallies. Although there was a ban by the military on public meetings, we opened the churches to host the gatherings of the strikers. And it was a wise decision. Because it avoided deaths and riots in the street. Indeed, Lula’s orientation was always based on non-violent action. The birth of the Lula’s Workers’ Party was the beginning of a process of redemocratization in Brazil which would then be achieved in subsequent years. That experience among the workers was a big help in my next assignments. In 1996 I became archbishop of Fortaleza in the state of Ceará, in the Nordeste region. And if in Santo André, I experienced the poverty of urban slums, in Fortaleza, instead I was faced with the equally terrible poverty of the peasants who lived off nothing. There we really did a lot of work. Two years later, as archbishop of São Paulo, together with my collaborators, we were busy with people forced to live on the street, both children and adults. It was urgent pastoral work, difficult but exciting.
Dom Cláudio Hummes speaking to the 80,000 metalworkers gathered in Vila Euclides stadium during the big strike 
of 13 March 1979; to the left of Hummes can be seen Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva [© Cardinal Cláudio Hummes]

Dom Cláudio Hummes speaking to the 80,000 metalworkers gathered in Vila Euclides stadium during the big strike of 13 March 1979; to the left of Hummes can be seen Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva [© Cardinal Cláudio Hummes]

You were ordained bishop in the Cathedral of Porto Alegre by Cardinal Aloísio Lorscheider on 25 May 1975 and were a friend of Dom Luciano Mendes de Almeida. Two giants of the Brazilian Church. Can you tell us something about them?
HUMMES: Lorscheider goes beyond the confines of the Church in Brazil. He belongs to the universal Church. He welcomed me at the Antonianum in Rome because in 1959 he was teaching Dogmatic Theology and I have always considered myself his disciple. What I can say about him is that he knew how to give to theology, beyond its doctrinal character, a spiritual and pastoral breadth. The other thing to remember is that for twenty-three years as archbishop of Fortaleza he worked strenuously for the poor.
Whereas Mendes de Almeida had a completely different style. I had the good fortune to work with him in the Brazilian Bishops’ Conference, of which he was president. When I was bishop of Santo André, he was auxiliary in São Paulo. So we were very close. He welcomed the poor in their singularity. To help one he would suspend work and followed him down the street or go as far as his home, given that he had one. At that moment nothing else mattered to him except that poor man. Only he knew how to do it in that way. I remember often seeing him asleep during some important meeting: it meant that he’d been up all night looking after someone, perhaps in the street. He was a saint.
Your other occupation has been that of training priests. A sort of approach road to your current post.
HUMMES: The training of priests has been part of my life. Soon after my return from Rome I taught at the regional Upper Seminary and Pontifical University of Porto Alegre, and had a continuous relationship with the seminaries. There was a lot of work to be done not least because, after the Council, the seminaries were in crisis. Many, indeed, had been closed. Once Bishop of Santo André, I and my colleagues started virtually from scratch in that diocese, opening a seminary for Theology and one for Philosophy. Thank God, when I left, the two new seminaries were full. Then I was appointed Archbishop of Fortaleza, in Nordeste, and there, too, there was need for a great pastoral effort for vocations and to finish the construction of a building for the introductory year. In 1998, appointed Archbishop of São Paulo, I found a diocesan seminary, but with an insufficient number of seminarians. A priest had to be employed full-time on the pastoral for vocations, and it was a providential decision. I had to change some priests engaged in the training of seminarians and we built a new seminary for theologians and bought a building for the introductory year. Many young men with a vocation in their heart were helped to bring it out, to understand clearly where their path lay. In the pastoral for vocations the point, after all, is simple: the young people must have someone in front of them whom they can trust to talk about their vocation and receive appropriate guidance.
Hummes with Lula in 1989 during Lula’s first election campaign for the presidency of the Republic [© Cardinal Cláudio Hummes]

Hummes with Lula in 1989 during Lula’s first election campaign for the presidency of the Republic [© Cardinal Cláudio Hummes]

Experiences that have obviously turned out useful here in Rome also. Especially in view of a year that the Church will devote to priests, whose image has been tarnished in recent times by certain cases of pedophilia widely emphasized by the media worldwide.
HUMMES: This is a good time for the Year of the Priest. The Pope has asked the Congregation for the Clergy to promote and coordinate spiritual and pastoral initiatives together with the bishops and major religious superiors. We want to help all priests to renew their love and enthusiasm for their vocation and mission. It’s also an opportunity to reestablish the truth: 96% of priests worldwide have nothing to do with the various forms of unworthiness that have emerged in recent years. Most of them, despite all the weaknesses, human limitations and the shortcomings, every day offer their lives for others, in the exercise of their daily ministry and mission. We want to be positive and proactive for them, helping them to strengthen the spiritual life that sustains all forms of mission. This Year of the Priest aims to be the recognition of the importance of the priests. Why are they so important? Because the Church walks with the feet of priests. When they stop, everything stops. When they walk, everything starts to move. If they are perplexed, nothing happens.
We do not want to talk only of a perfect priest. Certainly, we must always pursue the ideal. But the recognition of the Church regards the priests who are already there, who proclaim and witness Christ in every corner of the world today. We recognize them, we love them, we admire them, we want to be friends to them, fathers. In short, they need to know that the Church loves them. The point is how to turn this into real concrete gestures. First, we must give them the opportunity of permanent training that will help them rediscover the beauty of their lives. In today’s society as it is. In the world as it is. We must not demonize contemporary culture and society. Because these are the times that the Lord has given us to live in. Indeed, one must grasp the opportunities, the positive aspects offered to all, also to the priest. For that reason we must pray with them and for them. In the parishes, in the dioceses. And people must be involved, called on to collaborate. The Pope has told us to work together with the bishops and religious superiors. The Year of the Priest must involve the whole Church.
In the speech the Pope made on 16 March last year to the participants in the plenary assembly of the Congregation for the Clergy, there is a passage which speaks of the recognizability of priests, whether in terms of their judgment of faith, their personal virtues, or their mode of dress.
HUMMES: Ecclesiastic dress has always been an obligation. But in a pluralistic society the signs of identity are even more important. In a similar way, but even more profoundly, the strong witness of priestly celibacy, which is a sign of the transcendence of the Kingdom of God, can and should be a mark of presbyters making them recognizable. At the same time, being recognized has a sacramental meaning. It is a form of love for one’s vocation: the wish to be recognized and not unknown. Another thing I would say: we must help priests to understand that it is not enough to wait for the people to come to church. Today that is not enough. It’s necessary for them to stand up and go to seek and evangelize the baptized who have fallen away and all those who still have not been baptized. That they let themselves be reached by the breath of the Holy Spirit and begin to work the mission, in the strict sense of the word. And I’m not speaking only of non-Christian countries, but also of Christian ones. We can’t cling to a past that no longer exists. Understanding this will make one happier, freer.
Benedict XVI with Cardinal Hummes at the plenary assembly of the Congregation for the Clergy, 16 March 2009 [© Osservatore Romano]

Benedict XVI with Cardinal Hummes at the plenary assembly of the Congregation for the Clergy, 16 March 2009 [© Osservatore Romano]

Getting more concrete, what are the gestures, the most significant moments of this Year of the Priest?
HUMMES: The Pope himself opens the Year of the Priest on 19 June, the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the World Day of Prayer for the sanctification of priests. First of all I should tell you that the Vatican Basilica will display the relic – brought by the Bishop of Belley-Ars – of the heart of St Jean Marie Vianney, the saintly Curé d’Ars, on the hundred and fiftieth anniversary of his death. This simple priest is an exemplary model: he was able to draw people to Christ by his way of life, his way of praying, of being a priest, of listening in confession. Despite all the historical and social differences that separate us from his time, it’s to be remembered that when he arrived in Ars nobody went to his church. Then, thanks to the way he lived, his sermons, the church filled up. Already patron of all parish priests in the world, he will be proclaimed patron of all priests.
On that day the Pope will preside at Vespers in St Peter’s Basilica, and preach a sermon. His desire is that, simultaneously with the celebration in the Vatican, the bishops in their dioceses, the religious in their congregations and parish priests along with their faithful will give a start to this year dedicated to priests. The Pope will draft a document and send it to priests. For the closure, to take place in June 2010, a global meeting of priests with the Pope in St Peter’s Square is planned. On a date still to be decided an international theological conference will be held here in Rome on the person of the priest. In addition, in this Year of the Priest, the Congregation for the Clergy will publish a document on the dedication to the mission of presbyters, the outcome of its last plenary assembly. The Congregation will also work out a directory for confessors and spiritual directors because the ministry of reconciliation, proper to priests, is and always will be a substantial element in the life of the Church: Jesus came to reconcile God with mankind and all mankind with itself. As the Gospel says: “God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through him”.
Your Eminence, how many priests are there today?
HUMMES: In 2006 there were 407,000. The statistics for 2007 provided by the Holy See say that there are a thousand more. Moderately increased but not enough.
30Days is publishing a series of articles devoted to the Pontifical Colleges of Rome, some of which are quite pleased with the numbers entering the seminary. Particularly those of Latin America and Brazil.
HUMMES: It’s true: one can be reasonably optimistic. The seminaries are beginning to fill again. In some areas of Brazil especially, there is a great entry. Perhaps they are beginning to reap the first fruits of the great permanent continental mission launched at the fifth General Conference of the bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean two years ago in Aparecida, where there was also the urge to complete the process of evangelization – begun but left half done – among the baptized and to open a new evangelization. So, as Jesus says, “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel.”
Your Eminence, how much do you miss Brazil?
HUMMES: For me it was a great grace to be called by the Pope to Rome. I must say, however, that Rome is Rome and São Paulo is São Paulo. There’s no comparison.


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