Cardinal von Galen Award – Fall 2011: Bishop Luiz Gonzaga Bergonzini

The second International Congress for Truth and Life took place in the metropolitan city of São Paulo, Brazil, from November 2 to 6. Bishops, priests, seminarians and hundreds of lay men and women heard speakers from Ecuador, Bolivia, Argentina, Brazil and the United States.

A major highlight of the event was the presentation of the Cardinal von Galen Award to His Excellency Luiz Gonzaga Bergonzini, Diocesan Bishop of Guarulhos in the State of São Paulo. Fr. Shenan Boquet, the new President of Human Life International, presented the award in person. HLI selected Bergonzini to receive the prestigious award for his courageous work on behalf of the unborn.

The Cardinal von Galen Award is named after Blessed Cardinal August Clemens von Galen, of the Diocese of Muenster, Germany, who fought openly against Hitler’s pro-death campaigns in the 1930s and 1940s. The cardinal publicly denounced how Nazism had placed itself above and beyond morals, as well as its intention to destroy the very foundations of Christianity. He was beatified in 2005, the same year the award was created by HLI.

In my capacity as HLI’s Regional Coordinator for Portuguese-speaking countries, I had the privilege of delivering the presentation address to Bishop Bergonzini, a man who epitomizes the priesthood with his passion for the Gospel and for Jesus Christ.

Bishop Bergonzini made history during Brazil’s 2010 presidential elections when he exhorted the Brazilian people not to vote for Dilma Rousseff, the Workers’ Party’s candidate, because of her commitment to the legalization of abortion.

Through the website of the Bishops Conference of Brazil, and the over two million copies of the flier titled “Appeal to the Brazilian People,” the bishop used every avenue available to him to educate his flock.  His efforts caused a loss of 6 million votes for the anti-life candidate, although Rousseff did ultimately win the election. Abortion had never before been a matter of national debate in Brazil.  Thanks to Bergonzini’s efforts, the pro-life people of Brazil are now aware of what’s at stake, and are fighting against the anti-life policies of politicians like Rousseff.

In an interview given to the newspaper Folha de São Paulo, Bishop Bergonzini emphatically affirmed: “Each one of us knows our duties and omissions, and will be accountable not to me, but to God. I point to the road, but I do not take anyone’s liberty away. My certitude is the truth of the Gospel. My candidate is Christ Himself. And my party is the Gospel!”

The bishop’s public affirmation of fidelity to the teachings of the Magisterium on life was confirmed by Pope Benedict XVI shortly before the elections. The Holy Father issued a strong statement confirming the Church’s position on the right to life from the moment of conception, thus endorsing the courageous stance taken by Bishop Bergonzini and a few other bishops who denounced the pro-abortion platform of the Workers’ Party.

Moreover, due to Bergonzini’s public stance, the credibility of the Catholic Church went up 20 points from 34% to 54% (the only organization in the country with higher credibility is the Brazilian Army).

“We must distinguish between political parties and politics,” the bishop stated. “The Church does not have the right to engage in politics? The Church has the duty to do so! As a citizen I have the right, and as a bishop, as a Christian, I have the obligation to participate in politics … In our party, the head is Jesus Christ, and our weapon, our law, is the Gospel!”

Bergonzini is known for insisting on the involvement of the Church in the political process regarding life-issues, a principle upheld by the Vatican but often rejected by local bishops.

He was ordained priest in 1959, and consecrated Bishop of Guarulhos in 1992.  His diocese contains more than 1.3 million people, and almost 11,000 pastoral workers in 389 parishes.

He is also a Professor at the Faculty of Economic Sciences of São João da Boa Vista, director of the Stella Maris Hospital, vice-president of the Santa Casa de Misericórdia of Guarulhos and is a professional journalist, acting as director of the “A Cidade de São João” newspaper as well as the diocesan newspaper.

All of these activities – and many others not mentioned here – portray the dynamic personality of Bishop Luiz Gonzaga Bergonzini, the leader of a diocese that is both populous and filled with challenges.

By his courage and fidelity to the Catholic Church, Bishop Luiz Gonzaga Bergonzini was chosen by the Época magazine as one of the most influential people in Brazil in 2010. He has become known as the “Lion of Guarulhos,” and his voice has reverberated throughout the country. He preaches the Gospel of Life whether it is “in season” or “out of season,” and like St. Paul the Apostle, he has received several death threats for his efforts. Yet he remains undauntedly faithful to his mission.

In the face of the iniquitous crime of abortion, the Church cannot keep silent. To do so would be a grave omission. Worse still, it could be interpreted as a tacit assent. Bergonzini provides an example that all bishops and priests can look to when faced with similar challenges.

At the end of the presentation address, Fr. Shenan Boquet delivered the Cardinal von Galen Award to Bishop Bergonzini amid the thunderous applause of the standing audience.

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