Sérgio da Rocha, who will soon turn 57, is the current archbishop of the Brazilian capital Brasília, where he was appointed by Benedict XVI in June 2011 to succeed Cardinal João Braz de Aviz, considered a strong Latin American contender to the papacy in 2013.
As president of the Brazilian Bishop’s Conference, da Rocha took part
in the 2015 Synod of Bishops on the Family, where he obviously caused a
positive impression on Pope Francis, who this year tapped him to be
part of the Synod’s Council to prepare the 2018 meeting of bishops, to focus on youth and vocations.
The council has 15 members, 12 of whom were chosen by the prelates
gathered in Rome in 2015, and three others, like da Rocha, who were
handpicked by Francis.
Ahead of the synod, da Rocha spoke about the need for both Church and
State to pay closer attention to couples in difficult situations,
saying he hoped the bishops could “find light, not just general
enlightenment but pastoral guidance.”
He didn’t, however, give a clear opinion on access to Communion for
divorced and remarried couples, one of the hot button issues of that
On the Church’s approach to the LGBT community, another contentious
issue, Rocha said that “the Church wants to welcome everyone, without
excluding anyone, but, at the same time, tries to offer, under the light
of the Gospel, the values that come from God’s words, that must orient
the actions of everyone.”
Under his command, the Brazilian Bishops’ Conference (CNBB) has
strongly condemned the legalization of abortion as the response to the
Zika virus, which scientific evidence shows might be tied to a growth of
cases of babies being born with cerebral abnormalities.
Responding to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights,
who earlier in the year asked Latin American governments to allow
abortions in cases of pregnancies where babies present signs of
microcephaly, da Rocha said: “We need to value life in every situation
and every condition. Less quality of life does not mean less right to
live or less human dignity.”
The CNBB also launched a 2016 “Fraternity campaign” under the
banner “Common Home, Our Responsibility,” to implement Pope Francis’s
environment encyclical, Laudato Si’.
Care for creation is a key concern for the new Brazilian cardinal, who grew up in the rural areas of São Paulo state.
Late last September, talking to Vatican Radio from a gathering of
Portuguese-speaking bishops held in Aparecida, Brazil, he appealed for
society to take action, rather than rely solely on governments.
“When we talk about the care of creation, don’t think only of distant
ecosystems, but of where you live, our common home,” he said.
He added that it was necessary to talk to authorities about basic
sanitation in Brazil, where millions have no access to clean water, but
forming consciences regarding a more responsible care of nature was also
key. Among the examples he gave were recycling as well as reducing food
consumption and water waste.
Since being named to his diocese - Brasília is Brazil’s fourth
largest city - he has created 11 new parishes, introduced two new
pastoral plans for the homeless and for young people, reformed the local
seminary and restructured the pastoral teams.
People close to him have told Crux that he favors spending
the weekends in the poorest areas of the city, often celebrating Sunday
mass in parishes on the outskirts rather than at the local cathedral.
Like Pope Francis, too, da Rocha has a very pastoral approach, and is a
big defender of the poor and marginalized.
During a September meeting of the CNBB’s pastoral council under the
motto of “Practicing justice, loving mercy and walking with God,” Rocha
said that putting both mercy and justice into practice must be done in
“the search for God’s voice, listening to his people.”
“I believe that we have to advance in understanding and practice,” he
said, adding that these were not opposed but “two dimensions of the
On the day of the announcement, Rocha wrote on the diocesan Facebook
page that he was “surprised” by Francis’s decision to make him a
cardinal. He was on a pastoral visit to a parish in a neighboring city
at the time.
“I thank the pope in the name of the whole Church, for the sign of mercy and love he’s given to the Church in Brazil,” he wrote.
Regarding his new title, he wrote: “Being a cardinal is not an honor,
but a service that needs the help of the faithful and the people to be
Curiously, on the same Sunday that Francis announced the new names,
the website of the diocese of Brasilia was hacked by the
so-called “Brazilian Cyber Army.” Visitors to the site in search of
information about the new cardinal found a black screen with its logo
and a reggae song chanting: “I smoke pot, I smoke one, I smoke two and
save the others to smoke later.”
Da Rocha was born in 1959 in the state of São Paulo. He was ordained a
priest in 1984, after doing his theological studies in São Paulo and
Rome’s Alphonsian Academy.
Three years after his ordination he became the rector of the São
Carlos Seminary and coordinator of Diocesan Pastoral Vocation. He’s also
been a member of the formation of permanent deacons, and of the Council
of Priests in the same diocese.
In 2001 Pope John Paul II made him an auxiliary bishop of Fortaleza,
in northeast Brazil. Six years later Benedict XVI appointed him
coadjutor Archbishop of Teresina, and finally Brasilia.
president of the CNBB he held positions related to priestly formation
and youth ministry both in Brazil and in the continent-wide
Latin-American bishops’ council CELAM.
With da Rocha’s appointment Brazil will have 11 men in the College of
Cardinals, but only five of them are under 80, and therefore able
to vote in a conclave.