“The true Christian votes for Lula!” shouts a voter of the ex-president to a supporter of the outgoing head of state Jair Bolsonaro, on the threshold of a Catholic church in Rio de Janeiro, an annex of which has been transformed into a polling station.
The atmosphere is electric in this church in the Copacabana district at the end of mass this Sunday, the day when Brazilians are called to the polls to decide between the icon of the left Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and the far-right president.
Joana d’Arco Perina, an activist of the Workers’ Party (PT), Lula’s political family, is a devout Catholic and is red with anger when she hears Elizabeth de Souza defend Bolsonaro, who she says “destroyed everything”.
“Lula has a pact with the devil! Bolsonaro was sent by God to save us!” retorts Elizabeth de Souza, who wears a yellow and green t-shirt, the colors of the national flag, rallying sign of the Bolsonarists, on which appears the slogan “My party is Brazil”.
Catholic too, this 69-year-old retiree maintains that a “battle of good against evil” is being played out on this election day. A speech hammered out by the wife of the outgoing president, Michelle Bolsonaro, a devout evangelical.
Religion has been at the center of this very polarized campaign, in this country where the 215 million inhabitants are mainly Catholics and a third belong to evangelical Protestant churches.
Evangelicals tend to favor Bolsonaro and Catholic Lula, but candidates have made more gestures toward both groups in the final stretch of the campaign.
– Abortion, family –
“To me, the family is sacred,” Lula said last week when meeting with evangelical leaders.
But the recent efforts made by the ex-unionist to address believers did not convince Edval Maximo, 41, who came to vote for Jair Bolsonaro.
“I’ve never heard Lula talk about the word of God. It’s only now that he’s in the countryside that he talks about it,” said this man with light green eyes, from the Northeast and guard in a neighborhood building.
“The left and the communists, they hate religion,” he adds.
Nearly 60% of people questioned by the Datafolha institute believe that the religious question is decisive in their choice.
A poll by the same institute recently indicated that this factor weighed more heavily among Bolsonaro voters.
“I am against abortion. I vote for the one who defends the family: the Myth,” confides Magali Zimmermann, 67, using a nickname of the outgoing president.
But it is not only religion that weighs in his choice. “I love Copacabana, but I’m afraid to go out in the street because of thieves,” adds this resident of this well-known and touristy neighborhood, where many retirees live.
“Bolsonaro is not perfect but he will bring us security”, supports this widow who never misses a mass.
– God left? –
Eduardo Jorge, at the back of the church, swings, hands in the air, and sings praises to God. He is one of the few people sporting a red t-shirt, the color of the PT, among a crowd where there are more yellow and green.
“I believe in a God who redistributes,” maintains this voter of Lula at the end of the mass. “Bolsonarists use faith to defend their interests, rather than the poor. We need a Brazil that offers opportunities again and that does not exclude people,” said the 53-year-old social worker.
Her Brazilian flag-shaped earrings make it clear who Esther Ferreira is leaning towards. “Without hesitation”, she will vote for the former paratrooper Bolsonaro, but above all because she hates the left.
“I am a Catholic, but he could be an atheist or a Jew, I would still vote for him”.
On Wilson Rodrigues Santos’ forearm is a colorful tattoo of Jesus. But this voter of Lula assures that it was not religion that played in his decision to vote for the former metalworker.
“Everything was catastrophic under Bolsonaro. Lula must come back for education, health, public service… for everything,” he adds.