For Pope Francis, this Brazilian descendant of Italian immigrants is a “messenger of God”, who “always works for the excluded, the poor”.

Like Abbé Pierre in France in the last century, this 73-year-old priest with a strong character has become the symbol of the fight for the defense of some 40,000 homeless people who live in the largest metropolis in Latin America. .

Even if it means attracting the wrath of the far right, as well as threats for his criticism of the authorities and the police.

For 37 years, he has been the parish priest of Saint-Michel Archange de Mooca, a popular district in the east of Sao Paulo, a megalopolis of 12 million inhabitants “full of apartheids” according to him.

Wearing simple brown sandals, Father Lancelotti can’t stand still.

At the start of the austral winter, he has a lot to do to prevent the cold from killing him.

It happened in front of his eyes, in May, when a homeless man died after fainting in line at a food distribution center during the historic cold snap of May.

“The situation has worsened with the increase in misery” due to the Covid-19 crisis. “There are more and more families living on the street, mothers with their children,” the priest with thin glasses and the rare white hair that surrounds his bald head told AFP.

– “A real father” –

Every morning, after celebrating the 7:00 a.m. Mass, Father Lancellotti swaps his cassock for an apron and pushes a supermarket trolley full of donations received for a reception center.

He himself participates in the breakfast service of hundreds of people stricken by poverty and social distress, in particular members of the LGBTQIA community rejected by their families.

“We only help those we know, and we only love the people we spend time with,” says the priest.

“He’s like a real father. He gives advice, he cheers us up. He’s an angel,” said Caua Victor, a 20-year-old homeless man.

The pandemic has deepened already abysmal inequalities in Brazil, where more than 30 million people went hungry last year (a 73% increase from 2020), according to data from the Brazilian Network for Research on Sovereignty and food security (Rede Penssan).

Father Lancellotti intervened on several occasions in the face of the police, in particular during eviction operations in disused buildings occupied by homeless people.

In February 2021, he broke with a mass the concrete blocks installed by the authorities to prevent people from sleeping under a bridge.

– “Life is a fight –

Taxed as a “thug” by Luciano Hang, retail magnate and unwavering supporter of far-right president Jair Bolsonaro, the priest gave himself a leitmotif: “persevere and resist”.

This “rebellious spirit” is not new. At 19, Julio Lancellotti was expelled from the seminary because he “always expressed (aloud) his critical thinking”, revealed one of his relatives.

He therefore decided to study pedagogy, became a teacher, and was not ordained a priest until much later, at the age of 36.

The cleric, who met on several occasions with former left-wing president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (2003-2010), favorite in the October presidential election against Jair Bolsonaro, has always spoken out against “the effects of the capitalist system neoliberal”.

In the early 1990s, he founded Casa Vida, a reception center where several dozen children with AIDS, orphans or abandoned by their parents, still live today.

“For a long time, the word fight bothered me. But this is no longer the case today (…) Life is a fight”, he wrote in his book “There was a stone in the middle of the road “, published last year.