Brazil: Julio Lancellotti, alongside the poorest

It is a little after 7:30 a.m. and the parish priest of São Miguel Arcanjo comes out of his church pushing a shopping cart loaded with food. The sky is gray over the district of Mooca, in the east of São Paulo. Father Julio had to put on a raincoat under his apron before going for a walk, like every morning after mass. Direction the community center São Martinho de Lima, where he will distribute breakfast to the homeless. A few volunteers who have come to lend him a hand follow the septuagenarian’s cart.

A breakfast for the homeless

At the São Martinho center in Lima, where street men and women can freshen up, see a doctor, regain their strength, a queue is already in place. To ensure good order, tickets have been distributed and a voice on the microphone recites numbers. Father Julio brings out the bread and the fruit juices, the cakes and the sweets. He places them on the table. In the service, standing pliers in hand, he kept his mask, in this country which was one of the most bruised by the Covid-19. Facetious, he pretends at times to want to catch the nose of one of the needy and attracts a smile as a reward.

Tall, with a confident gait, Father Julio wears his 73 years well. But the years end up weighing on him as the morning progresses. He needs to sit down. This son of Italian immigrants has served in São Miguel Arcanjo for nearly four decades. And almost as much as he helps the homeless in São Paulo.

He has seen how tense the climate has been since the emergence of Bolsonarism at the end of 2018. “ This political current is that of hatred, he said. Hatred of migrants, hatred of the poor “. Hatred of the other too. ” His rhetoric aims to disqualify his interlocutorhe explains, so as not to have to answer substantive questions. “You are a communist priest”, that’s what I’m told “.

Faced with threats, the support of Pope Francis

Father Julio no longer counts the threats sent to him, on social networks or even in the street. One day, he received a call from Pope Francis who, having been informed, wanted to express his support for him and encourage him in his fight. Father Julio has become a symbol of the struggle against what he calls “aporophobia” – hatred of the poor.

“It is increasingly strong within the Brazilian population, he laments. I would even say that it is quite widespread, in all social strata. But it is unfortunately a global phenomenon, which we see with the rise of the extreme right in Europe. »

The threats however, and even if he does not take them lightly, do not make him blink. Father Julio does not hesitate to speak his mind. Nor to be indignant when necessary, including during periods of strong tension. During the electoral campaign which ended this Sunday, October 30, he had thus sent President Jair Bolsonaro back to the ropes, who assured that hunger did not exist in the Brazil of 2022. “I see her every day, and more and more”he had retorted on social networks, attracting new hateful comments.

A not so new hate

After breakfast served to several hundred people, the priest returns to his parish. In a small inner courtyard at the entrance to the church, a few people are waiting for him on a bench. On a wall, a plaque bears the name of Marielle Franco, municipal councilor and human rights activist from Rio de Janeiro who was assassinated in March 2018. She reminds us that hatred did not wait for Jair Bolsonaro, and that it will not disappear with him. “He’s a really sinister character,” said the priest, who supported without qualms during this campaign the other candidate, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. He had hoped for his victory in the first round, to send a strong message to the Brazilian far right.

Father Julio takes his place on the bench, in the middle of his visitors. There is a woman there with her two boys, a tired young man, an elderly person who is a bit lost. The priest discusses, takes news. He doesn’t seem to be in a hurry, even though the team from a local television station is waiting for him to interview him. The homeless will leave with hats, a little big pants, clean T-shirts. “The system would like not to see the excluded, to make them disappear, loose the parish priest of São Miguel Arcanjo. Yet it is he who produces them ». Tomorrow morning, he will push his cart again to the São Martinho center in Lima.


The writings of the theologian Joseph Comblin

I was greatly influenced by the books and the thought of José Comblin, a Belgian-Brazilian theologianexplains Father Julio Lancellotti. In particular by his book “O tempo da Açao”, because it was a question of action for the Church “. Born in Belgium in 1923, Joseph Comblin has spent most of his life in Latin America. He was sent to Brazil in 1958 as a priest fidei donum. He became a close collaborator of Dom Helder Camara and joined the line of liberation theologians. Expelled from Brazil in the hands of the military in 1972, he joined Chile, which he had to leave after the coup. He then returned to Brazil, where he continued his teaching and writing work. He died in 2011, at the age of 88.

Brazil: Julio Lancellotti, alongside the poorest