Brazilian Lula chases Catholic vote in presidential election

Incumbent Brazilian President Luiz Ignacio Lula da Silva is fighting to retain the support of grassroots Christian communities and social groups for his Workers Party in the presidential election runoff this weekend.

The Washington Post reports that the Brazilian President is seeking to revive old alliances with the Catholic left as he chases votes for this Sunday's run-off in the world's biggest Catholic country.

Lula, a former union leader, and his Workers' Party have roots in Christian groups that cater to the poor and promote Latin America's home-grown liberation theology, which combines religious teachings with calls for social justice.

But corruption scandals that dogged Lula's first term and some of his economic policies had disenchanted many clerics and the faithful. Lula, who is ahead in polls, is now seeking to rekindle their support with assurances that Brazil's first working-class president will do more to fight poverty than his conservative rival.

"Their support used to be unconditional. But now there are negotiations, and you can see support coming Lula's way again," Professor Ruda Ricci, a sociologist and religion expert, told the Post.

Opinion polls now show Lula with over 60 percent of the votes, leading his challenger Geraldo Alckmin by over 20 points. In the first round on 1 October, Lula finished with a seven-point advantage over Alckmin, who likely Lula is a Catholic.

According to Professor Ricci many poor Catholics in rural areas still see the bearded Lula "as a sort of neo-Moses guiding his people toward liberation" and always vote for him.

But he added that it is crucial for the president to regain the allegiance of opinion-makers like priests and religious social movements to obtain more votes.

Commentators say Alckmin has done little to win over the Catholic left in the run-up to this election, betting instead on support from the conservative circles of the church, which has been only modest. He has had to deny rumours he is a member of Opus Dei.

"If it was a Lula campaign trick, it worked. To those in more liberal Christian communities Opus Dei is the ultra-right threat, and they firmly associated Alckmin with it," said another religious specialist who did not want to be named.

As an institution, the Church in Brazil does not support any candidate. But since the first round Lula has received the formal backing of notable "political bishops," like Pedro Casaldaliga and Mauro Morelli.

Carlos Alberto Libanio, a prominent Dominican friar known as Frei Betto, issued a public statement calling for Lula's re-election and defending the president's record.

Earlier this year Brazil's bishops called on voters to elect only those politicians not marred by corruption.

Brazil's Lula revives ties with Catholic left (Washington Post, 25/10/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Luiz Inicio Lula da Silva (Wikipedia)
Workers Party, Brazil
Geraldo Alckmin (Wikipedia)

Brazil bishop on hunger strike over river diversion scheme (CathNews, 4/10/05)
Dominican friar top adviser for Brazilian presidential candidate (CathNews, 25/10/02)

26 Oct 2006