Latin America & Caribbean

Brazilian cardinal who stood up to military dies

View of mass during the wake of former archbishop of Sao Paulo and cardinal, Paulo Evaristo Arns, at the Metropolitan Cathedral of Sao Paulo, Brazil, on December 16, 2016 Image copyright AFP
Image caption Cardinal Arns is to be buried in his beloved cathedral in Sao Paulo

The funeral has taken place in Sao Paulo of a much-loved former archbishop, Evaristo Arns, who won fame for standing up to Brazil's military government (1965-1985).

The ceremony, in the city's cathedral, was attended by hundreds of people and broadcast live on national television.

President Michel Temer said the country had lost a defender of democracy.

Cardinal Arns, who died at the age of 95, denounced the use of torture by the military authorities.

He also used church media outlets to pressure the military government over its repressive policies.

A priest for 71 years, he was revered in Brazil as some one who stood up to the army and who also supported the poor and the vulnerable.

As cardinal archbishop of Sao Paulo from 1970 onwards, he horrified traditional Brazilian Catholics by selling the city's ornate archiepiscopal palace, finding employment for the 25 servants who were working there and moving instead into modest rooms behind a monastery.

He spent the money from the sale on creating a social and health centre in a Sao Paulo favela or shantytown.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Cardinal Arns handed over his his post in 1998

Among those attending the funeral was the former left-wing President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

Evaristo Arns is to be buried in Sao Paulo's cathedral, where in 1975 he organised one of the most open acts of defiance of Brazil's military era, praying with other religious leaders and blaming the army for the assassination of Vladimir Herzog, a journalist who had been detained shortly before.

Officials said Herzog had committed suicide in prison, but Cardinal Arns rejected that version during the Mass, despite the tanks and soldiers stationed outside the church.

Cardinal Arns also helped victims of political persecution and torture in the rest of South America.

One of his friends was the Argentinean human rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner, Adolfo Perez Esquivel, who said Cardinal Arns had saved him twice from the Brazilian military.

Arns was an important voice within the left-leaning Liberation Theology movement, which called on the Catholic Church to champion the poor.

"I was never," Cardinal Arns said, "in favour of communism or capitalism.

"I wanted a social system where all would have what is sufficient for a decent life and where there would be justice and equality. "

In retirement, as the resident chaplain at an old people's home in the north of Sao Paulo, Evaristo Arns continued to speak out, calling for reform of the rule demanding priests be celibate.

He told a local newspaper that clerical celibacy should only be an option since it had little basis in the Bible.

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