Brazilian conservatives fail to see funny side of Pope's joke about country's love of booze

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  • Pope Francis
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Pope Francis visited Brazil on one of his first overseas trips - EPA
Pope Francis visited Brazil on one of his first overseas trips - EPA

Like many other remarks that spark controversy, no offence was intended. But a quip by Pope Francis about Brazilians drinking too much has upset the country's conservatives, who have declined to see the funny side of a man they view as a "communist".

The row broke out after the Pope made a joke about Brazilians' fondness for cachaça, a fiery spirit made from fermented sugar cane juice. Delivering a blessing to a Brazilian priest at the Vatican, he told Father João Paulo Victor: "There is no salvation for you. Too much cachaça and not enough praying.”

While many Brazilians greeted the remark with good humour, it did not amuse Brazilian conservatives. In a letter to the website Jornal da Cidade Online, a lawyer named Jorge Beja said the Pope’s words were hurtful at a time when Brazilians are suffering from the Covid-19 pandemic.

To suggest that “we’re not worthy of the Pope’s prayers, because we drink too much cachaça and pray too little,” was cruel and hurtful, he said. His letter was shared thousands of times on Facebook.

The failure to see the funny side, however, may have been less about thin-skinnedness over drinking, and more about resentment among conservatives over the Pope's outspoken views on global inequality and the iniquities of consumerism.

Hundreds of thousands of people crowded Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro in 2013 as Pope Francis celebrated the final mass of his visit to Brazil - AFP
Hundreds of thousands of people crowded Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro in 2013 as Pope Francis celebrated the final mass of his visit to Brazil - AFP

Frederico Viotti, a spokesman for the traditionalist Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira Institute (IPCO), which was formerly part of the Brazilian Society in Defense of Tradition, Family, and Property, described the Pope's comment as "unfortunate".

“Pope Francis frequently has rough words to address countries governed by conservatives which, to a certain extent, fight society’s de-Christianisation, while only rarely he shows criticism towards leftist governments,” he told Crux, a Catholic website in the US.

Supporters of Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro, nicknamed the Trump of the Tropics, were quick to weigh in. Some comments on social media even described the Pope as "communist".

But Bishop Devair Araújo da Fonseca from Piracicaba, in São Paulo State, said the Pope’s comments should not be taken too seriously. “Pope Francis can be naturally spirited. It’s a positive thing. I think we’re losing our sense of humour,” the bishop told Crux.

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