“I have always wanted to be a servant in my life,” said Archbishop Paulo Cezar Costa at a press conference on May 29, after learning that Pope Francis had named him to the list of 20 prelates who will enter the College of Cardinals on August 27.
Since his appointment as a bishop just 11 years ago, Costa, now 55, has been a leader of the Brazilian episcopate. Since December 2020, he has been entrusted with the archdiocese of his country’s capital, Brasilia, where he seeks to promote dialogue and be close to his flock.
“A total surprise,” the future cardinal acknowledged about the announcement. For him, it reflects the “kindness of Pope Francis” toward the Church in Brazil and his city of Brasilia. “My deep gratitude to Pope Francis for choosing me,” he added.
In August, Archbishop Costa will become the third youngest elector of the College of Cardinals, after Archbishop Giorgio Marengo, 48, Apostolic Prefect of Ulaanbaatar (Mongolia) and Archbishop Virgílio do Carmo da Silva, 54, Archbishop of Dili (East Timor), who will also be created cardinals during the August consistory.
Until then, the position of youngest was held by Archbishop Dieudonné Nzapalainga of Bangui (Central African Republic), who is also 55, but four months older.
An early educator and pastor
Costa was born on July 20, 1967, in Valença, Rio de Janeiro. Ordained in 1992, he studied philosophy and theology in Brazil and then did his doctorate at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, graduating in 2001.
Returning to Brazil in 2002, he served as a parish priest for several years and then from 2006 to 2010, he dedicated himself to the education and formation of future clergy, as rector of a seminary, director of an institute of theology and philosophy, and director and professor of the theology department at the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro.
In 2010, at only 43 years old, he was appointed by Benedict XVI as auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of São Sebastião do Rio de Janeiro, headed by Cardinal Orani João Tempesta.
As a bishop, he continued to work for various commissions and offices in charge of students and universities, among other things. In 2013, he was notably the administrative director of World Youth Day. On that occasion, Bishop Costa met with Pope Francis, who was making his first international trip at the time.
In 2016, Bishop Costa was appointed bishop of the Diocese of São Carlos, in the state of São Paulo, which has about one million Catholics. During his years in office – he remained until 2020 – he created the Ecclesiastical Tribunal, a Commission for the Protection of Minors and Vulnerable Persons, episcopal vicariates, ordained at least eight new priests and reopened the Propaedeutic Seminary, local media reported.
In 2019, he and one of his auxiliary bishops received honorary citizenship of the city in recognition of their service to the community. At his farewell Mass the following year, a laywoman speaking on behalf of the faithful of the diocese said that the people of São Carlos hold for him “a great sense of gratitude” for having, among other things, been in the midst of the faithful “the image of the good shepherd.”
“I gave my life to São Carlos for four years and four months and I was very happy there. São Carlos was a great school for me, where I was able to make my contribution, taking all the baggage of faith and life that the Church had given me. But where I was also able to learn and mature a lot,” said Bishop Costa in an interview with the head of communications of the diocese, published June 1, 2022.
Promoting dialogue in a politically tense environment
After being appointed in October 2020, Archbishop Costa was installed the following December as Archbishop of Brasilia, which covers the territory of Brazil’s federal district, including the capital and its outskirts. It has about two million Catholics. The headquarters of the Episcopal Conference is also in Brasilia.
Archbishop Costa succeeded Cardinal Sergio da Rocha, who since 2020 has been primate of Brazil as Archbishop of São Salvador da Bahia. Since the creation of the Diocese of Brasilia in 1960, all the archbishops, with the exception of the first, have been appointed cardinals.
“I’m going [to Brasilia] with the desire to meet the powers that be: the executive, the legislative, the judicial. [With the desire] to dialogue, to build what Pope Francis calls the culture of encounter,” Archbishop Costa told the media outlet Metrópoles on October 21, 2020, the day of his appointment as archbishop.
In a country that is increasingly politically polarized, has been extremely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic (with more than 675,000 deaths) and is still struggling economically, Archbishop Costa’s goal is not an easy one to achieve. However, he considers that promoting dialogue and speaking from the Church’s point of view is crucial to his mission.
“[Polarization] becomes something that can be negative, when people become sharper in their positions and lose the ability to dialogue,” he told Jornal Opção in July 2022. “The danger of polarization is when it focuses more on ideology than on people’s real problems,” he said, considering that this is one of the problems of politics today.
At the press conference following his creation as a cardinal, he mentioned this idea, saying that he hoped that in the next presidential election, in October 2022, the candidates would propose concrete solutions for the good of the people, rather than spending time discussing ideologies.
Although he said that “the Church does not get involved in party politics,” Costa is well aware that Brasilia is the center of the country’s governance and he said he is not afraid to be firm on issues the Church finds important.
In an interview with O Estadão in November 2020, he acknowledged that “being inflexible” is sometimes necessary when one is aware “that there lies the good, there lies the way of humanity,” citing as an example the issues of ecology and the protection of the Amazon.
“There is much work ahead. Work in our beloved Archdiocese of Brasilia and work also in the service of the Church,” said Bishop Costa, commenting on his creation as a cardinal in May 2022. “But we must do everything with joy, seeking to serve with joy.”