Yesterday, I received an email from a young man who informs me that this week, the South American nation of Brazil was re-consecrated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary with the (partial – and somewhat odd) participation of the country’s president, Jair Messias Bolsonaro.
The email comes from Vitor Sousa, an 18-year-old engineering student at the Federal University of São Carlos. I asked Vitor — who is also a lead altar server and an organist at his diocesan cathedral and Tridentine Mass — to write something about what happened. His explanation follows.
Today, May 21, Brazil was blessed, as it was consecrated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary by Bishop Dom Fernando Arêas Rifan, the Apostolic Administrator of the Personal Apostolic Administration of Saint John Mary Vianney. This act took place at the presidential palace (“Palácio do Planalto”) and was preceded by a ceremony, attended by the president of the republic, Jair Messias Bolsonaro. (The picture above shows the president and the image of Our Lady, inside the presidential palace.) Bolsonaro is a Catholic — one who admittedly does not go to church often, is married to a Protestant, and is seen many times at Protestant worship, but nevertheless insistently calls himself Catholic. He was elected as the conservative candidate in last year’s election, defeating the socialist Fernando Haddad.
It was expected that the president himself would read the consecration; however, he only watched the 30-minute ceremony that preceded it and then exited the hall, in a way that caught the organizers by surprise. In the absence of the president, Bishop Rifan read the formula consecrating the country to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. (There has been some speculation that the consecration was invalid because the president himself didn’t say it. This remains a matter of debate, with Bishop Rifan himself indicating on Facebook that it may not have been “fully satisfying”.)
It’s important to note that Brazil was already consecrated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary in 1948 by all the Brazilian bishops and then-president Eurico Gaspar Dutra.
Bolsonaro’s exit at the moment of the consecration is attributed to the political support of the Protestant group of deputies, an important part of his government’s base at the Congress. As his government pursues an agenda of many reforms, he can’t lose the support of this group, which is composed mainly of evangelical pastors. However, in a country that hasn’t had any Catholic protagonists in politics until recently, some of the new congressmen elected last year (who organized this event) are showing the Protestants that Catholics are still the majority in the Brazilian population.
It’s important to note that the Brazilian Catholic Bishops’ Conference (CNBB), which continuously opposes the government and is associated with socialist movements and parties, didn’t send any representative to the ceremony. Bishop Rifan’s apostolic administration celebrates only the Tridentine Mass, and he is the only bishop in the world (in full communion with Rome) that prays only Tridentine Masses in his diocese. One of the attendees, Chris Tonietto, a federal deputy, is an ardent devotee of the Tridentine Mass and the result of many groups that are being created in Brazil by the laity, called “centers,” that aim to reconquer the Catholic mainstream position in society. She also became famous when she said, “Viva Cristo Rei!” (Long Live Christ the King!) during a session of Brazil’s Congress.
Indeed, Catholics are fighting here to recover from decades of the influence of Liberation Theology on the local Church, and the laity have been the principal part of this movement. Many leaders are arising, such as Chris Tonietto, Bernardo Kuster, and the “centers” such as “Centro Dom Bosco.” The CNBB, meanwhile, is widely discredited due to its opposition to conservative politicians and defense of socialist parties and politicians.
This video shows the 30-minute ceremony before the consecration:
This video shows Bishop Rifan doing the consecration:
It is interesting to note that the consecration went ahead despite the president’s sudden departure, and that for some, this raises questions about its validity. It seems that a bishop’s consecration should be sufficient, especially considering that Bolsonaro clearly gave it enough approval to attend at least the beginning.
Also of note is that the consecration itself was done by Bishop Rifan, formerly of the SSPX, and controversial for a number of reasons in more hardline traditionalist circles, not least of which is that he has defended and even participated in the Novus Ordo at times. Google his name and you’ll find a number of articles taking him to task for various alleged betrayals of the trad movement, but it seems that in this case, the bishop, who leads the traditionalist Personal Apostolic Administration of Saint John Mary Vianney, has done something even his critics should be able to support.
Indeed, we live in very interesting times.
Correction & Update: We originally reported that Chris Tonietto, a Brazilian federal deputy, was an organizer of the consecration. She has since clarified that she was only one of those invited in comments on her Facebook page. The text of this post has been updated to reflect this, and we have added some brief comments from Bishop Rifan about the consecration as well.
Steve Skojec is the Founding Publisher and Executive Director of OnePeterFive.com. He received his BA in Communications and Theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville in 2001. His commentary has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today, The Washington Post, The Washington Times, Crisis Magazine, EWTN, Huffington Post Live, The Fox News Channel, Foreign Policy, and the BBC. Steve and his wife Jamie have seven children.