Priest Jonas Abib Leader of a Brazilian Charismatic Group Dies at 85

Father Jonas Abib died on December 12 at the age of 85. He was the leader of Canção Nova (“New Song” in Portuguese), which was one of the most essential Catholic charismatic communities in Brazil. Since 2021, he had been sick with myeloma, which is a type of cancer.

Others have criticized Abib for being hostile to indigenous spirituality and for being close to the right-wing government of former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. Those who support him say he has a unique talent for organizing and reaching out to young people.

Salesian Father Abib was one of the first people in the South American country to promote Charismatic Catholic Renewal (CCR). In 1978, he started Canção Nova with the goal of building a community of lay people and clergy members who the Holy Spirit moved.

Abib was a musician who wrote well-known Catholic songs that were popular all over Brazil. He also worked hard to spread the Gospel through the media. In the 1980s, he started a radio station called Canção Nova and a TV station called Canção Nova.

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Today, Canção Nova’s media outlets reach millions of people in Brazil, Portugal, and many other countries. A publishing house and a record company are also part of the media group.

The community has groups in Paraguay, Mozambique, Portugal, Italy, France, and Israel, as well as in a few cities in Brazil. Father Dilermando Cozatti, a longtime friend, said, “He was a humble, simple, holy man who did everything a priest should do.”

Cozatti met Abib for the first time in 1959 when Abib was his teacher at a seminary in Lavrinhas, So Paulo. Over the years, they worked together in many ways, usually with groups of young Catholics.

“By the end of the 1960s, he had already tried out living with other people. Cozatti told Crux that his group thought that living in a community was the best way to be free. He also said that it was clear that this movement was the start of something new.

After Canção Nova was made official, Abib had to stay away from the daily life of the Salesians, but his friends say he never gave up on Saint John Bosco’s ideas. Canção Nova was officially accepted into the Salesian family in 2009, which was one year after it was recognized by the Pope.

Canção Nova also put money into education over time, building a school and a college. At the start of the 2000s, the group started the first philosophy class that didn’t count for credit. In 2011, the Brazilian government officially recognized the college, which also offered courses in theology and other subjects.

“Father Abib had the goal of forming new men for a new world. Not only communication but also education was central for him,” affirmed Lino Rampazzo, a professor at the college since it was established.

Rampazzo remembered that Abib always stressed how important it was to have challenging, high-quality courses. “It was part of the Salesian charism. He dreamt that one day it could become a university,” he added. Catholics in Brazil had a lot to say about Abib’s death. He was given the title of monsignor in 2007.

“Monsignor Jonas Abib is an undying reference of a man of God in love with Jesus Christ. Through the strength of his witnessed faith, he constituted a rich heritage on the missionary journey of the Church, a source of inspiration,” affirmed Archbishop Walmor Azevedo de Oliveira of Belo Horizonte, who heads the National Conference of Bishops of Brazil (CNBB).

Cardinal Odilo Scherer, the Archbishop of So Paulo, made a statement in which he talked about how Abib used the media to spread the word about God. He also said that Abib “gave his whole life to the Church, which he loved and served so much.” On social media, many Catholics talked about how sad they were about Abib’s death and how they hoped he would one day be made a saint.

“He lived sainthood. He was a most loyal son of the Church, a person who was conscious of God’s plan for him but who never expressed any vanity about it,” Cozatti said. Some in the Church don’t like the idea, though, because they think Abib’s legacy is a bit of a mess.

“He was a multifaceted man. He was very intelligent, had a great connection with the people, and was a communicator. But he had a few magical creeds, he believed he had healing powers,” affirmed theologian Fernando Altemeyer Jr, a Religious Studies professor at the Pontifical Catholic University of São Paulo, alluding to “Masses of cure and liberation” and other similar celebrations.

Altemeyer agrees that Abib built one of the largest Catholic communities in Brazil in just a few decades, but he also remembers that Abib “spoke in a very conservative way and even endorsed [President Jair] Bolsonaro.”

The president, who expressed sadness on social media about Abib’s death, went to Canção Nova’s headquarters soon after being elected in 2018. Abib gave him a warm welcome and prayed with him.

“It wasn’t the people who chose you, it was God. So, Canção Nova welcomes you with open arms and tells you, Mr. President, to do God’s will, which will completely change Brazil,” Abib then told Bolsonaro.

The current leader, who was defeated by Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and will leave office on December 31, had a very controversial time in office, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, when he tried to downplay how serious the disease was. Church leaders criticized him several times because of how he talked about guns and didn’t do enough to protect the environment, especially the Amazon.

Altemeyer said Abib “was not in sync with the CNBB or Pope Francis” because of his “brutal intolerance toward non-Christian religions.” Because of this, the request for a quick canonization process is not fair.

Faustino Teixeira, a retired professor of theology at the Federal University of Juiz de Fora and an expert in interfaith dialogue, thinks that Abib’s views on other religions are a huge stain on his legacy.

Teixeira talks about the trouble that Abib’s book Sim, Sim! Não, Não! – Reflexões de Cura e Libertação (“Yes, Yes! No, No! – Reflections on Healing and Liberation”) in 2008, when a judge in Bahia State did order the removal of all copies from bookstores due to the alleged “practice and incitement of discrimination or religious prejudice.”

In the book, Abib said that the Brazilian people are Catholic but have a “mindset strongly marked by Spiritism, both [Allan] Kardec’s Spiritism […] and the Umbanda, Candomblé, and other branches of the African tradition.”

He said that this is how the devil shows himself and that “Spiritist doctrine is bad.” “Spiritism is like an epidemy and must be fought as such: it is a focus of death.” The lawsuit went all the way to the Supreme Court, which said that even though the book was “intolerant, pedantic, and prepotent,” it was part of the “clash of religions” and is protected by religious freedom.

Teixeira said, “This book caused a lot of trouble because it made it clear how Canção Nova sees other religions, which is very different from the ideas of the Second Vatican Council.” Teixeira said that “the idea of a Catholic centrality that must avoid ecumenism is against the Second Vatican Council and Pope Francis’ papacy.”

On December 13, he posted an article on social media that talked about Abib’s anti-ecumenical ideas and the controversy that the book caused. “I received several attacks, especially from younger people,” he lamented.

When Father Jonas Abib was a seminarian in the 1970s, Manoel Godoy, who teaches theology at the St. Thomas Aquinas Institute in Belo Horizonte, met him for the first time. He also thinks that his visions and those of Canção Nova have “ecclesiological inconsistencies with regard to the Second Vatican Council, which opened the Church to the world.”

“Both Monsignor Abib and Canção Nova deny many times that they are part of the world and that they have to dialogue with other social segments,” he told Crux. He said that the media in Canção Nova “only show one side of the Church and never show that there are other sides.”

“They have a unilateral vision of the Church, and a proselytist, apologetical stance,” he argued. He said that Canção Nova’s charismatic practices, like healing and glossolalia, “reduce the Church to a therapeutic dimension,” which is very similar to the way Neo-Pentecostal churches do things.

Fernando Altemeyer Jr. said that, many years ago, CNBB put out a document that was critical of CCR, especially the idea of “baptism in the Spirit.”

“Those were his contradictions. He was a paradoxical man. But he left a well-organized movement. Canção Nova will certainly keep going without his presence,” Altemeyer concluded… Follow us only on Lee Daily for more news like this.

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