Brazil’s President-elect, Congressman Jair Messias Bolsonaro, on Friday delivered a strong gesture of sympathy to Catholics in the world’s most populous Catholic nation: He visited, in one shot, Brazil’s most important Marian shrine and also its most popular charismatic community.
Brazil’s new far-right president used the day trip to reaffirm his government’s conservative religious and moral agenda.
“I am a Catholic, my family is Catholic, my wife is an evangelical [Protestant]. The meaning of this visit is faith,” he told TV Aparecida, which belongs to the national shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida, run by the Redemptorist Fathers.
“The Brazilian people, in large part, are Catholic and have to be respected. There is much talk about the secular state, but we are Christians. So that has to be taken into account. Respect for religion will be present in our government,” the new president said.
Bolsonaro has been dubbed the “Trump of the Tropics.” He explicitly pursues an ultra-liberal economic policy associated with nationalism and a conservative moral agenda. The new president, and particularly his new foreign minister, Ernesto Araújo, are declared Trump enthusiasts.
On Nov. 29, Bolsonaro received U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton in his house in Rio de Janeiro.
“We must deepen our trade relationship with the United States, as well as with other countries. We have to put aside any ideological bias,” Bolsonaro told Catholic journalists in a press conference.
“The meeting with John Bolton was very productive. He invited me, and I accepted, in the first two months of next year, to come to the United States, with a properly trained team, to deepen this relationship, a bilateralism that will be useful for both countries.”
On the following day, the new president traveled to the Paraíba Valley in the state of São Paulo. The purpose of the journey was a graduation ceremony for 530 new sergeants, trained by the Brazilian Air Force, in Guaratinguetá.
Bolsonaro is a retired army captain, and during his nearly 30 years of political life, he’s praised repeatedly the violent military dictatorship that ruled the country between 1964 and 1985. Of the 20 ministers appointed for his government, to date seven are military men. Two other appointments are pending.
“It may be that they are two more servicemen. I do not know yet. It could be, okay?” he told journalists.
After attending the aeronautic ceremony, Bolsonaro adjusted his schedule to visit the National Shrine of Aparecida. He was received by the local archbishop, Orlando Brandes, and by Father Daniel Antônio da Silva, the sanctuary’s bursar. Before the famed image of Our Lady, they prayed a Hail Mary.
Closer to the faithful inside the church, Brandes led them while singing: “The President will be blessed because the Lord will pour out His love. O Lord, pour out/ O Lord pour out /O Lord pour out your love upon him.”
At the exit, several people shouted “myth,” a compliment widely used by Bolsonaro’s internet supporters. Most of his campaign was carried out through social media, and he got elected spending only $750,000, according to his party’s reports.
After visiting Aparecida, the president-elect went to Cachoeira Paulista, where he met with religious leaders of the Canção Nova (“New Song”) Community.
As part of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, Canção Nova is a community of lay people and priests, widely known in Brazil for being innovative in media initiatives, catechesis and liturgy, but conservative in customs.
In addition to a television and a radio channel, Canção Nova has an events center with a capacity of 80,000 people and has communities in seven countries. Its activities are mainly funded by the faithful themselves, which is why it is common to see on their television a large number of ads asking for donations.
The 63-year old politician said he went to Canção Nova in gratitude because God saved his life.
Bolsonaro was stabbed at a campaign rally in September, apparently by a man with mental health problems. “I was saved by men [the doctors], but also by the hand of God. Thank you for the support, the trust, the prayers. What happens to me is a mission from God,” he told the members of the community, as they received him singing the prayer of St. Francis.
They prayed around him and, together with the new president, they said a Hail Mary and applauded for Jesus. “I want to ask for more than wisdom. I want to ask for the courage to decide the destiny of this great nation called Brazil,” he said. The people responded with “Amen.”
“I thank God for this moment and for my life. I ask, more than ever, for your support so that together we can lead Brazil to the prominent place it deserves,” Bolsonaro added. “I am a survivor and I believe, yes, as a Christian, that I am here only by interference from God.”
Welcoming president Bolsonaro was 81-year-old Monsignor Jonas Abib, a priest and founder of Canção Nova, and the Jesuit priest Eduardo Dougherty, another charismatic leader and founder of Catholic TV Século 21.
Abib told the people that now Brazil “has the president that it needed.”
“It was not the people who elected him. It was God. Canção Nova welcomes him with open arms, saying that the president accomplishes the will of God, because Brazil will change completely,” Abib told his own TV channel.
Luzia Santiago, one of the co-founders of Canção Nova, said that many members have been praying for Bolsonaro’s health since he was attacked. “We commit ourselves to be your intercessors. Prayer moves the sky. Everything can be changed by the power of prayer,” she assured the new president.
At the end of the event, Abib blessed the new president and the people. “President, ad multos annos! May you really do what God wants. Give a big hug to your daughter and your wife. Upon you and upon all of us the blessing of the almighty God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen. Let’s clap!”
During the visit, Bolsonaro mentioned one more time that he was elected to lead a conservative government and defined what that means for him.
“The people sent a message. They want the family, they want respect, they do not want gender ideology… they do not want all that progressivism that’s been preached out there,” he said.
“They want trade with the whole world without ideological bias, they really want to solve the issue of public safety, they want a school where, at the end of the line, the young person has a well-defined job, and they want the family to be respected. God above everything, and the family above all here on earth.”
Bolsonaro also told journalists that he does not intend to change the law regarding taxation of churches in Brazil. Currently, religious institutions have wide tax exemption, but there is an ongoing public debate about what their fair share should be. Critics of the exemption say the state is funding the enrichment of religious leaders, and defenders usually insist it’s a matter of religious freedom.
“As far as I’m concerned, we will keep these exemptions, because the work done [by religious groups] is extremely relevant. It’s not fair, in my view, any taxation in that regard,” the president-elect said.