In Brazil, religion at the heart of the electoral campaign

Sao Paulo (Brazil)

From our correspondent

To make up for his five-point handicap in the first round of the presidential election, outgoing President Jair Bolsonaro did not hesitate to play the religion card. Popular among Evangelicals, he tried to reach out to Catholics as well on two traditional festivals, during the campaign between the two towers.

During the Cirio de Nazaré pilgrimage in the Amazon, Jair Bolsonaro arrived aboard a navy frigate that carried the image of Our Lady of Nazareth. The Archbishop of Belém, Monsignor Alberto Taveira Corrêa, issued a warning:« We must respect the full freedom of any citizen to participate in the celebrations of the Cirio de Nazaré. However, we do not want and will not allow any political or partisan use of Cirio’s activities. »

The outgoing president ultimately did not join the crowd of pilgrims and simply said he had come as head of state, not as a candidate. » He exaggerates, However, protested Frei Betto, a Dominican, himself very involved in politics – he was an adviser to Lula. This is a total manipulation of a religious holiday! Fortunately, the archbishop reacted. »

The episode reveals the tenuous link between politics and religion during this election, confirmed by the presence of Jair Bolsonaro also during the celebration of Our Lady of Aparecida, the patron saint of Brazil, on October 12. The day before, the Conference of Brazilian Bishops (CNBB) deplored « the intensification of the exploitation of faith and religion in the hope of winning votes for the second round ». In a statement, she « firmly condemned the use of religion by any candidate in the context of his electoral campaign ».

Cardinal Odilo Scherer criticized the dangers of “the instrumentalization of religion” between the two towers. “There is a really strange atmosphere. I don’t remember having experienced such a situation during an election period… There is currently a certain instrumentalization of religion, which is not correct”, the Archbishop of Sao Paulo told CBN radio. In some cases, political differences cause division within families and religious communities. “When it comes to that, to the point of saying that there is good on one side, and evil on the other, it is not good”, he added. This subject came up at the pope’s general audience on Wednesday, October 26. Francis indicated that he had asked Our Lady of Aparecida to “to protect the dear Brazilian people and free them from hatred and violence”.

While trying to get closer to Catholics, Jair Bolsonaro continues to mobilize evangelicals against the left-wing former president Lula. “They say they will close the temples and that a pastor can go to jail if he refuses to marry two men,” explains Marlène, an evangelical cleaner from the outskirts of Sao Paulo. On her mobile phone, she receives the watchwords of the outgoing president’s campaign, which she supports.

Social networks are Jair Bolsonaro’s great weapon in an attempt to discredit his opponent. We even see a video associating Lula with Satan. “According to this fundamentalist vision, Lula is the incarnation of Evil, and Bolsonaro the envoy of God. Bolsonaro succeeded in asserting this messianic vision,” believes Frei Betto.

In response, Lula sent a “open letter to the evangelical people”. » We live (…) a time when lies are used intensely to instill fear in people of good faith, and alienate them from a candidacy that defends them much better”, assures the former president, who denounces “the sad scandal of the use of faith”. “The attempt to politically exploit the faith to divide Brazilians leads nowhere, helps neither the State nor the Churches, because it alienates people from the message of the Gospel”.

Twenty years ago, before his first election, Lula sent a “open letter to the brazilian people” to ensure that he was not going to make a revolution and that he was going to implement moderate policies. It remains to be seen whether his letter to the evangelicals will have the same effectiveness.


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