SAO PAULO - Aloisio Lorscheider, one of Latin America's most influential cardinals, died yesterday after a lengthy hospital stay. He was 83.
The two-time president of the National Conference of Brazilian Bishops played an influential role in the two conclaves of 1978 and pushed for the election of Cardinal Karol Wojtyla of Poland, who became Pope John Paul II.
Cardinal Lorscheider created a stir in Brazil in 1998 when he doubted the healing effects of popular, tiny, rice-paper pills linked to Friar Galvao, who this year became Brazil's first native-born saint.
Shortly after Galvao was beatified as a key step toward his sainthood, Cardinal Lorscheider, then the Archbishop of Aparecida do Norte, ordered nuns to stop making what he called "small pieces of paper that foster superstition."
"Those pills are like the fake medicines that miracle workers claim could cure all diseases," Cardinal Lorscheider said.
Thousands of believers still flock to the 18th-century Luz Monastery every day for the pills, three of which must be swallowed over a nine-day period.
Cardinal Lorscheider was born in Picada Geraldo, Rio Grande do Sul state. He became Archbishop of Fortaleza in 1973 and in 1976 he was nominated cardinal by Pope Paul VI.
After the death of Paul VI, Cardinal Lorscheider reportedly helped lobby other Third World cardinals to vote for the Patriarch of Venice, who became Pope John Paul I.
When the pope died 33 days after his election, Cardinal Lorscheider pushed for the election of Wojtyla, who became John Paul II.
Cardinal Lorscheider led the National Conference of Brazilian Bishops from 1971 until 1978. He also presided over the Latin American Episcopal Council in 1976.
He retired from the command of the Aparecida archdiocese in 2004.
President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva lamented the passing of an advocate for the poor. "His dedication to the poor and to social justice are examples that will remain alive for all Brazilians," Silva said in a statement. "Aloisio was a symbol for the fight for human rights."