Pope contender cheated death: Brazil cardinal Joao Braz de Aviz tells story of being shot during kidnap attempt
March 8, 2013
Sao Paulo: Brazil's Cardinal Joao Braz de Aviz survived being shot in a terrifying kidnap ordeal before later emerging as an outside bet to succeed Benedict XVI as pope.
The progressive 65-year-old archbishop of Brasilia cheated death in 1983, when he was caught in the crossfire as police opened fire on two youths who had kidnapped him following a robbery attempt.
In the aftermath of the attack, Braz de Aviz said he heard a divine voice reassuring him as he fought for life.
"Jesus, why should I die at the age of 36?" the future archbishop recalled in an interview.
According to Braz de Aviz, it was then that he heard the voice of Jesus, telling him: "I died at the age of 33. You already had three more years than I."
Braz de Aviz rose from humble beginnings to join the lengthening list of papal contenders.
Along the way, the charismatic prelate had to clear many hurdles while conducting pastoral work in this predominantly Catholic country of 194 million people.
Now he is at the Vatican, one of 115 cardinals who are to pick a successor to Benedict XVI who stepped down February 28 due to old age.
Sao Paulo Archbishop Odilo Scherer, a 63-year-old German-Brazilian, is also being touted as a strong contender for the job.
Viewed as a progressive, Braz de Aviz said a Latin American could be elected pope and added that he was a candidate just like the other cardinals.
Ordained priest in 1972 and bishop in 1994, Braz de Aviz was appointed cardinal by Benedict XVI in February 2012.
A year earlier, he was called to the Vatican to serve as prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and the Societies of Apostolic Life, in charge of 800,000 men and women from around the world.
He has served as Brasilia archbishop since 2004.
Braz de Aviz was born on April 24, 1947 in the small town of Mafra in the southern state of Santa Catarina.
The second of eight brothers, he and his family moved to the neighboring state of Parana, where his father found a job as a butcher.
"The decision to look after the poor gave us great hope, above all to us who came from poor families," he told the Italian magazine "30 Days" soon after arriving in Rome to take up his new post.
A member of the Focolare movement, an international organization inspired by the gospel that promotes universal brotherhood, he completed his theological studies in Rome at the Pontifical Gregorian University.
But he shunned the radical liberation theology that holds that the church must stand on the side of the poor and the downtrodden, though he recognized its influence in the Catholic Church.
When he was appointed cardinal, he told the Catholic news agency I-Media: "In Latin America and other parts of the world, we must admire Europe's great history, its beauty."
"But Europe in turn must come down from its pedestal and have a fraternal attitude toward the other continents," he added.
Priest Emerson Barros, a press spokesman for the Brasilia Archbishopric, described Braz de Aviz as "very open, not just with the clergy but also with the people."
"For example, he had a very close relationship with evangelical churches," Barros added.
Evangelicals have seen their numbers soar from 26.2 million (15 percent) in 2000 to 42.3 million (22 percent) in 2010, while the proportion of Catholics is down to 63 percent of the total Brazilian population of 194 million from 73.6 percent in 2000.