Jews in Brazil mourn death of Catholic leader, friend

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Cardinal Arns at joint prayer of Catholic, Jewish and Protestant clerics on October 31, 1975. (Photo: World Jewish Congress)

The Jewish Community in Brazil is mourning together with the Catholic Church the passing of Cardinal Paulo Evaristo Arns who stood up to dictators and fought for democracy.

Cardinal Arns, who died last week at the age of 95, has been loved and admired by the Jewish community in Brazil since October 1975 when he defied the dictatorship of the military regime in a joint prayer with Reform Rabbi Henry Sobel and Presbyterian Pastor Reverend James Wright.

Cardinal Arns was protesting the murder of Jewish journalist Vladimir Hertzog. Hertzog was jailed shortly before, in a political prison. He was accused by the Brazilian government of being “subversive and communist,” accusations common against anyone who opposed the cruel military regime in Brazil between 1960 to the early 1980s.

Hertzog died in prison – the official ruling that he had committed suicide. However, Cardinal Arns did not “buy” the version, and later on, when Hertzog’s body was being prepared for burial by the Jewish community, Sobel noted marks of torture on the journalist’s body. He decided then that the burial would take place in the center of the Jewish cemetery, instead of the distant corner, according to Jewish tradition in cases of suicide.

That decision cast the official version given by the Military Police as a lie. The common public mass lead by Arns in the major Catholic Church in São Paulo, together with Sobel and Wright, was a turning point in the eventual restoration of true democracy in Brazil.

The leaders of the Jewish Community in Brazil say that Arns was a great leader and a defender of democracy and freedom of religion, especially during Brazil’s darkest ages. He played an important part in the fight against dictatorship.

In an interview with Jewish Telegraphic Agency, the president of the Brazilian Israelite Confederation, Fernando Lottenberg, said the Jewish community expresses “regret and solidarity with the Catholic community for this irreparable loss.”

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Rachel (Rachely) Scapa, studied journalism at the Open University TLV under Yedioth Aharonoth's journalist Dudi Goldman. Rachel served as news correspondent for various radio stations abroad, including BBC 3 Counties and Voice of America, both in English and Portuguese, giving the best reports from Israel. Currently she has two radio shows - one in Portuguese, which she has had for more than 13 years, presenting News from Israel and the ME. In the other, in Hebrew, she presents Brazilian music, on an Israeli radio station. Rachely is also a columnist for a Christian newspaper in Brazil, distributed over the triple border between Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay.