SAO PAULO (AP) — Cardinal Claudio Hummes, the Brazilian Catholic cardinal who inspired Pope Francis to pick his name after the 2013 conclave, died on Monday at the age of 87. He was one of the country’s main religious leaders and a strong advocate for the poor.
Sao Paulo archbishop, Cardinal Odilo Scherer, said in a statement that Hummes died “after a long illness, which he endured with patience and faith in God.” Hummes had been archbishop of Sao Paulo and, before that, of the city of Fortaleza.
Hummes also worked for Pope Benedict XVI between 2006 and 2011 as prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy, the Vatican office which oversees the education, training and other matters for Catholic priests. He left the job because of age limits.
Pope John Paul II made him Sao Paulo’s archbishop in 1998 and three years later the Brazilian became a cardinal.
Hummes was sitting near Argentinian Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio during the latest conclave, and, according to the pope himself, the Brazilian encouraged him as the vote neared the end.
“A great friend, a great friend,” Francis said about Hummes in his first press conference after being elected. “When things started getting a little dangerous, he cheered me on. And when the vote came to two thirds, the usual applause began, as the pope had been elected. He hugged me, kissed me and said: ‘Do not forget about the poor.’ Those words were carved on my mind.”
Francis decided to name himself after St. Francis of Assisi, who was particularly devoted to caring for the poor.
Leftist former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who leads polls to return to the office after October’s elections, was a friend of the man Brazilians call “Dom Claudio.” Hummes was considered a moderate in the Catholic church, though.
“His unconditional love for others always put him on the side of the poor, even in the most adverse situations,” da Silva said on Twitter.
Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro, whose far-right administration was often criticized by Hummes, has not made any comments about the cardinal’s death.
Hummes was also devoted to causes of the Amazon and of Indigenous peoples, who have had troubled relationships with religious leaders of other communities. The cardinal was one of the main inspirations for the Synod of the Pan-Amazonian Region in October 2019, which focused on environmental debates.
“Indigenous peoples have shown in many ways they want our church to defend and protect their rights, build their future,” Hummes said during the synod, adding the Indigenous of the Amazon deserve have “the leading roles” in their future, far from “the action of anyone’s colonialism.”
Recently, Francis named the first-ever Amazonian cardinal, given the importance the region has had on his pontificate and the attention he has wanted to draw to it.
Francis named Hummes in 2020 to lead the Ecclesial Conference of the Amazon region, which is fostered by the debates of the synod. The Brazilian cardinal said in a letter in July 2021 that he feared the decisions of the debate might be hollow.
“It is good to continue debating what we should do, but even with that being a good thing it is not enough,” Hummes wrote.
Hummes was born in the tiny town of Montenegro, in the state of Rio Grande do Sul, bordering Uruguay and Argentina. The cardinal's funeral was held Monday evening at Sao Paulo's central church and burial was scheduled for Tuesday morning.