Cardinal Cláudio Hummes, archbishop emeritus of São Paulo, Brazil, has died at the age of 87, his successor, Cardinal Odilo Pedro Scherer, reported on July 4, 2022.
A friend of Pope Francis, the Brazilian cardinal also worked with Benedict XVI as prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy from 2006 to 2010. He was also the general rapporteur of the Synod on Amazonia in 2019. He was the one who told Pope Francis on the day of his election, “Don’t forget the poor,” advice that prompted the Argentine pontiff to choose the name of the saint of Assisi.
Following Cardinal Hummes death, the College of Cardinals currently consists of 207 Cardinals, of whom 116 are electors and 91 are non-electors.
Born on August 8, 1934 in Montenegro to a family of German origin, Cláudio Hummes joined the Franciscans in 1952. He took his vows in 1956 and was ordained a priest in 1958. During his formative years, spent in Rome in the midst of the preparations and the beginning of the Second Vatican Council, he wrote a thesis in philosophy at the Antonianum University on the French intellectual Maurice Blondel (1861-1949).
A connoisseur of the French language and culture, Cláudio Hummes specialized a few years later in ecumenical research, studying at the Ecumenical Institute of Bossey, near Geneva, Switzerland.
After teaching philosophy at several institutions, including the Pontifical Catholic University of Porto Alegre, he became provincial of the Franciscans of Rio Grande do Sul and president of the Franciscan Council of Latin America at the age of 38 in 1972. He was only 40 years old when Paul VI appointed him, in 1975, Coadjutor Bishop of Santo André, an industrial city on the outskirts of São Paulo, where the metal and automobile industries, notably Volkswagen, employed up to 250,000 workers.
Firmness in the face of the Brazilian dictatorship
He became bishop at the end of the year and was confronted with numerous social conflicts during his 20 years as bishop. In one of these, he opened churches to strikers in order to dissuade armed repression. This attitude earned him threats from the authorities. “Brazil, at that time, was caught in the grip of the military dictatorship, and any hint of a mobilization in defense of workers’ rights was considered subversive and violently repressed,” he explained three decades later in an interview with the Italian monthly 30 Giorni.
During this period, he befriended union leader Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who was elected president in 2002. “I knew him in those years and we worked together because the Diocese of Santo André immediately sided with this new non-violent trade unionism, whose demands we considered just. People threw stones at me and at Lula because I often accompanied him on his outings,” said Cardinal Hummes.
Papabile in 2005, then collaborator of Benedict XVI
Appreciated by John Paul II for his concern for the poor, but also for his loyalty to Rome and his distance from the excesses of liberation theology, Archbishop Cláudio Hummes was promoted to Archbishop of Fortaleza in 1996, and then of São Paulo in 1998. He became a cardinal in 2001, during the same consistory as Archbishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires, the future Pope Francis.
In 2002, John Paul II invited Cardinal Hummes to preach the Lenten retreat of the Curia, an important sign of confidence on the part of the Polish pope, who had noticed the efficiency and loyalty of the Brazilian archbishop during the World Meeting of Families held in Rio de Janeiro in 1997.
He was among the “papabile” during the conclave of 2005, which saw the election of Benedict XVI to the See of Peter. The German Pope called him a year later to head the Congregation for the Clergy, a position he held until 2010. He was the organizer of the Year of the Priest in 2009-2010, which concluded with the proclamation of the Curé of Ars, St. John Mary Vianney, as the patron saint of all priests in the world.
A fellow traveler with Pope Francis
In March 2013, he participated in the conclave that would lead to the election of his Argentine friend, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio. Although it was not part of the protocol, the new Pope asked him to come with him to the loggia of St. Peter’s Basilica for his first blessing to the crowd. A few days later, the Argentinean Pope confided that Cardinal Hummes had inspired him to take the name Francis when he whispered to him in the Sistine Chapel: “Don’t forget the poor.”
Although in his 80s, Cardinal Hummes was very active in linking the first Latin American Pope in history with his native continent. Delegate for Amazonia within the Brazilian bishops’ conference, he would be entrusted, at 85 years of age, with the role of general reporter of the Synod on Amazonia organized in October 2019 in the Vatican, and of which he is considered the inspiration.
After serving as president of the Panamozonian Ecclesial Network (Repam) from 2014 to 2020, he was from 2020 to 2022 the president of a new body, the Ecclesial Conference of the Amazon (CEAMA), which is a fruit of the Synod. He stepped down last March for health reasons.
In a 2019 interview with La Civiltà Cattolica, Cardinal Hummes praised Pope Francis’ efforts, explaining that “from the beginning of his pontificate, he has exhorted and encouraged the Church to stand up and not remain static and overconfident in its theology, its vision of things, in a defensive attitude. The past is not petrified, it must always be part of history, part of a tradition that moves towards the future.”
Pope’s prayers for his soul
In a messages to his successor, Pope Francis assured his prayer for the eternal rest of this “dear brother.”
He said he prays also in gratitude to God for the “long years of his dedicated and zealous service,” ever guided by Gospel values.
And the Pope said, “I always carry vividly in my memory the words that Dom Claudio said to me on March 13, 2013, asking me not to forget the poor.”