Brazil presidential candidates woo religious leaders
SAO PAULO (AP) — Brazil’s presidential candidates wooed church leaders Wednesday ahead of a runoff in this deeply religious country with sizable Catholic and evangelical populations.
Leading far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro met with the Catholic archbishop of Rio de Janeiro, while his rival, leftist Fernando Haddad, spoke with evangelical and other Christian leaders.
With some 123 million members, Brazil is home to the world’s largest number of Catholics — and both candidates are Catholic. But evangelicals are increasing and now total 42 million.
The evangelical vote could be key in this election because of the increasing role in politics of evangelical churches along with their growing membership and organizational muscle.
Haddad is significantly trailing Bolsonaro in polls for the Oct. 28 runoff, but his support is particularly weak among evangelicals who tend to be socially conservative. Haddad also angered many evangelicals when he recently referred to the “charlatan fundamentalism” of Edir Macedo, who founded the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, one of Brazil’s largest evangelical churches.
Haddad sought to shore up his support among evangelicals — or at least tone down their criticism of him — at a meeting Wednesday with a largely friendly crowd of Christian leaders. He also published an open letter to “people of God,” emphasizing that he was a Christian and a family man and had long worked for the poor and marginalized.
In the letter, he criticized what he said was the long history of sowing fear and lies about his Workers’ Party among religious Christians. Later, during his meeting with church leaders, he talked about how vicious political attacks on him had affected his family.
He told the group that he was “making a personal appeal that in religious services (pastors) take into consideration the court ruling, which said I was the victim of calamity and defamation.”
Meanwhile, Bolsonaro met with Cardinal Orani Tempesta, telling reporters he was there more to listen than to speak. Bolsonaro has come under some criticism recently after saying some Catholic organizations in Brazil were “rotten.”
He told reporters that he signed a promise in defense of family values and against abortion and the legalization of drugs, calling it “a promise that is in the heart of every well-meaning Brazilian.”
Catholics are more split than evangelicals, but polls indicate they also prefer Bolsonaro.