Raymond de Souza, HLI’s delegate for international missions, delivered the following tribute to the late Dr. Humberto Leal-Vieira PhD, founder and president of the Brazil National Pro-Life and Pro-Family Association (HLI Brazil), at the VHI Priests and Seminarians conference in Rio de Janeiro, on Saturday, October 10, 2015.
Today Human Life International honors the late Humberto Leal-Vieira, founder and first president of the National Pro-Life and Pro-Family Association in Brazil, which was founded in 1983. The life of Humberto can teach us what it means to live out the gift of life.
Human Life International, which was founded by Father Paul Marx, OSB, in 1981, established Vida Humana Internacional in 1984, with Magaly Llaguno as its first executive director. When Father Marx and Mrs. Llaguno learned of the great work that Humberto Leal-Vieira was doing in Brazil, they invited the National Pro-Life and Pro-Family Association to become part of the HLI family. Thus, in 1984, HLI Brazil became the first affiliate in Latin America.
Professor Leal-Vieira was born in Jaguaquara, Bahia, in Brazil in 1938. He married Nancy Habib and they had had eight children – four boys and four girls. To date, twelve grandchildren and one great-grandchild have been added to the family.
Humberto held a bachelor degree in business administration from the Brazilian School of Public Administration of the Getulio Vargas Foundation, and a doctorate degree in administration from the National School of Administration in France. He was a professor in management fundamentals, materials management and methods organization at the University Teaching Center of Brasilia, as well as teaching graduate studies in administration at the Brazil University Center and serving as a management consultant for the Senate of Brazil. By 1985, Humberto retired from all of these positions.
As Humberto later recounted in an interview granted to Zenit:
As a Catholic, I always defended life from conception to natural death. When public debate began on whether to decriminalize abortion, I joined a meeting with a group of over one hundred Catholics concerned about this matter. At that meeting we agreed to establish the Brazilian Pro-Life Association and I was elected as the president at that same meeting. ‘Subsequently, on the Solemnity of Saint Joseph, March 19, 1983, we met to dissolve the Brazilian Pro-Life Association and established the National Pro-Life and Pro-Family Association in order to have an organization that would encompass all life and family issues so that we could do more. I was elected as its president. Soon afterwards, I began to attend the international conferences that were being held by Human Life International. Father Paul Marx helped me much to become a pro-life activist.
Later, he was chosen as the first Brazilian to become a permanent and founding member of the Pontifical Academy for Life of the Holy See, in the same year that it was created by Saint Pope John Paul II the Great. Later he also became a consultant to the Pontifical Council for the Family.
From the beginning, a key part of Humberto’s strategy was to engage in dialogue with executives and legislative leaders. His instruction that was given to his fellow missionaries was: ‘Inform, inform, inform’!
His successor as HLI Brazil president, Hermes Rodriguez-Nery, remembers his mentor with great affection:
There was no legislator who did not pay attention to what Humberto said, with conviction, for it was well-founded information, had the primary sources, documents; there was no way refute the arguments. It was solid and objective…. There was no legislator who was not surprised by Humberto’s knowledge, bravery and candor. He was tireless in the halls of Congress, while he carried the little 12 week baby models and demanded an answer to the question: Who will defend the defenseless? But all was not just aimed at technical effectiveness, a particular vote, a certain moment; each approach aimed to also touch the soul of the decision-maker, because for him it was really an evangelizing mission…
Humberto would encourage his followers to study bioethics, as well as to ‘put charity above knowledge,’ since he could see that divisions can easily enter into apostolic work. He was a gentleman who possessed a nobility of soul. He was a man known for his simple and surpassing humanity and virtues lived out, as a husband, father, scholar, friend, fellow missionary, and Catholic layman with a special love for the Most Blessed Virgin Mary. He would often say with much emotion that he received the missionary task to defend life and family from the blessing given to him by Pope John Paul II. Even when his illnesses became more acute, he found new strength whenever he would carry out his apostolic work.
Humberto died on September 21. Ever the efficient administrator, he made sure before he passed away that a new president of the National Pro-Life and Pro-Family Association of Brazil would be elected and continue with their apostolic work. As Hermes Rodriguez-Nery has said: ‘Humberto was a star in our lives, an essential support for the fulfillment of the vocation and mission that we all have, which is to be with God.’