Who Is Msgr. João Scognamiglio Clá Dias, EP?
On August 15, 1939, solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into Heaven, João Scognamiglio Clá Dias, son of Antonio Clá Díaz, a Spaniard, and Annitta Scognamiglio Clá Díaz, an Italian, was born in São Paulo. He was baptized on June 15 of the following year in the Church of St. Joseph in the Ipiranga District, close to his home.
From his earliest childhood, Providence endowed him with the gift of contemplation, as well as a great ease in perceiving the action of God through all of creation. Thus, on nights when he suffered from insomnia, he would sit on the window ledge of his room to admire the stars at length. That marvellous and slow-moving cortege of twinkling lights, seen, by his young imagination, as being the movement of the stars themselves, made a deep impression on him.
When he was five years old, upon entering the then Chapel of Our Lady of Sorrows, of the Augustinian Fathers, located in the Ipiranga District, he had his first encounter with the Blessed Sacrament exposed for adoration, just as the Priest was beginning Benediction. Inexplicably attracted by that white Host – the mystery of which had yet to be explained to him – as well as by that ambience of sacrality and recollection, he immediately concluded that he was in the presence of God! For him, the sensation of extraordinary grandeur and majesty, together with the effect of Jesus’ infinite goodness, represented an invitation to be good and was the starting point of a Eucharistic devotion which, with the passing of the years, would only grow and become more sublime.
During his studies, which were carried out, successively, at José Bonifácio School, at Independence Secondary School and at the President Roosevelt State High School, Msgr. João always stood out as the top student in the class, displaying a special aptitude for Mathematics and the Arts. However, the Catechism classes and the narratives of Sacred History were what delighted him and nourished his faith. His Confirmation, held on January 26, 1948, as well as his First Communion, on October 31 of the same year, further increased the enthusiasm that he had always felt for everything related to the supernatural life and to Religion.
In his early adolescence, finding himself at odds with the moral decline and vulgarity already prevalent in society at that time, he lamented that no one was fighting these trends with sufficient energy. In his youthful heart, he longed to somehow transpose the beautiful sidereal harmony he had contemplated in his childhood to the social interaction of his companions, with the addition of a religious note. It was the breath of the Holy Spirit, urging him to serve others within the sacred walls of the Holy Church. Under the impulse of these graces, at the outset of his youth, this aspiration to help his peers soon became more pronounced: hence his propensity for Medicine, Psychology, and the Arts, along with the dream of founding an association for youth, with the goal of safeguarding them from perdition, drawing them to God and supporting them on the path of perfection. He was distressed to see how many people allowed themselves be enslaved by egoism, and were motivated solely by personal interest. However, a certainty, stemming from faith, said to him, “There must be one entirely good and selfless man in the world! He is somewhere along my path, and the day will come when I will meet him.” Thus, he knelt at the foot of his bed at night, and, weeping, would earnestly pray thirty Hail Marys, asking to soon meet this man, of whose silhouette he had hazily glimpsed, as a special favour from Heaven.
So it was that, on July 7, 1956, the first day of the novena to Our Lady of Carmel, Msgr. João met Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira, the man who would illuminate his paths, convoking him to be a son of the Holy Catholic Church in the fullest sense, so as to fight with her, in her and for her, for the good order of society. He had found what he was seeking, and it filled him with joy! He was almost 17 years old at the time.
For his part, Dr. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira – Catholic leader who marked the twentieth century from start to finish with the brilliance of his faith and fearless militancy for the ideals of the Catholic Church – had, as a boy, envisioned the constitution of a religious Order of Chivalry, destined to work with public opinion to reform it. In 1928, having entered the Catholic Movement as a member of the Marian Congregations, he gathered around him a nucleus of friends, but he had no right-hand man who, sharing his ideas, could fully carry out his plans.
Years later, in a letter to Msgr. João, he wrote, recalling the hardships of that time of isolation: “Do you recall that supplication which was sung in the Marian Congregation: ‘Da pacem, Domine, in diebus nostris, quia non est allius qui pugnat pro nobis nisi Tu, Deus noster – Give peace, Lord, in our days, for there is no one who fights for us if not Thee, our God’? How many times did I make this my prayer! That Our Lady give me peace in my days, for there was no one who fought for me except for Deus noster, or She herself. But She later gave me a João, a great fighter for me!”
Dr. Plinio went on to form Msgr. João’s mentality, and strengthen him to persevere in the decisions embraced through his cogent influence. It was owing to the logic of Dr. Plinio’s magnificent expositions, the clarity of his thought, as well as to the agreeable aroma of his innocence that Msgr. João decided to abandon everything and everyone, so as to better serve God under his guidance and counsel. At this man’s side, he spent forty years of close association with the supernatural, nobility of soul, elevation of spirit, zeal for the Church and society, all within the utmost veneration for any and every hierarchy – particularly, a near-adoration of the Papacy.
Between 1957 and 1960, as a preamble to the apostolic feats that he would accomplish, Msgr. João joined the Marian Congregations, was admitted to the Third Order of Carmel and consecrated himself as a slave of love to the Blessed Virgin according to the method of St. Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort.
In 1958, he was called upon to perform military service at the newly created 7th Company of the Guard, of the 25th Infantry Battalion of São Paulo. There he excelled in discipline, command voice and military ability, which earned him the Marshal Hermes da Fonseca Medal, “Most Distinguished Recruit”, among the 208 conscripts enrolled that year. Additionally, he was awarded a diploma of “Honourable Mention”, “for good comportment displayed during his time in the Army ranks, working for the benefit of the Unit and attaining with his efforts the high esteem enjoyed by this 7th Company of the Guard.”
Aware of the effectiveness of music as a means of evangelization, Msgr. João perfected his knowledge with the renowned maestro Miguel Arqueróns, director of the Paulistano Chorus of the Municipal Theatre of São Paulo.
Dr. Plinio’s excellent mother, Dona Lucilia Ribeiro dos Santos Corrêa de Oliveira, was for Msgr. João, in his own words, “the guardian angel” who helped him to understand the infinite mercy of the Sacred Heart of Jesus more deeply. For his part, he played the role of an authentic son to Dona Lucilia during the last years of her life, until her death in 1968.
Starting in 1975, the figure of Msgr. João acquired a greater radius of influence at Dr. Plinio’s side: he became the mentor of thousands of youths from various nations, helping them and strengthening them in their faith, in an attitude of true “solicitude for all the churches” (2 Cor 11:28). Some he snatched from the claws of the devil, others he encouraged in the pursuit of perfection… He initiated new methods of apostolate through events in schools and even individual recruiting in streets and public places. He opened numerous houses of formation in several countries, where a life of prayer, study and religious ceremonial are combined with the missionary apostolate, always with a strong note of discipline and combativeness inherited from his period of military service.
Steeped in the gift of wisdom so characteristic of Dr. Plinio’s spirituality, Msgr. João became a perfect disciple, able to carry on the work begun by his master, model, director and guide. His natural and supernatural qualities, his excellent service, intrepidness and fidelity led Dr. Plinio to consider him as an “arch-son”, on different occasions calling him “the staff of my old age”, a “golden aide”, a “blessed instrument” and even an “alter ego”– other self. Dr. Plinio once wrote: “Justice demands that I say this: no one has given me so many and such great joys as you have.”
With the death of Dr. Plinio on October 3, 1995, Msgr. João, faced the physical absence of this fundamental figure in his life. In 1999, he decided to found the International Private Association of the Faithful Heralds of the Gospel, which received the approval of Pope John Paul II on February 22, 2001, making it the first pontifical association of the third millennium.
With the blessings of the Chair of Peter, the association soon spread to 78 nations and began to constitute a sizable and brilliant entity, made up mostly of young people. Marian Missions in parishes, the Mary Queen of All Hearts Shrine Apostolate, visits to families, prisons and hospitals, direct mailing services to millions of people, the Future and Life Project in Schools, TV-Arautos and Gaudium Press news agency, and the Mercy Help Fund are some of the activities undertaken by the Heralds in the most varied sectors of society.
Thanks to the apostolate carried out by Msgr. João, a large group of young women desiring to give themselves to God according to the charism of the Heralds of the Gospel also flourished. They received their definitive structure on December 25, 2005, with the founding of the Society of Apostolic Life Regina Virginum, approved a few years later, on April 26, 2009, by Pope Benedict XVI.
Living in separate communities of men and women, these young people embrace a life of profound spirituality, including daily participation in the Eucharist, adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, and the praying of the Rosary and the Liturgy of the Hours. In addition to the practice of the evangelical counsels of obedience, chastity and poverty, they observe an “Ordo of Customs” carefully formulated by Mgr. João, which can be summed up in the phrase of Our Lord Jesus Christ: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48).
Their garb symbolizes the vocation to which they are called: a brown scapular, of Carmelite inspiration, with a large cross of white, red and gold, signifying spotless purity, readiness for every sacrifice demanded in the service of the Church, and the nobility of their ideal. The chain worn around the waist attests to the slavery of love to the Most Holy Virgin, and the rosary, hanging from the right side, is an efficacious arm in the fight against the world, the flesh and the devil.
Under the guidance and motivation of Msgr. João arose the cooperators of the Heralds of the Gospel, selfless volunteers who dedicate their available time, amid family or professional obligations, to the evangelization, to the spreading of devotion to Mary, to bringing comfort to the sick and the imprisoned, to catechesis and liturgical animation in parishes and other apostolic endeavours. They wear a characteristic white cape with a red cross.
The greater family of the Heralds of the Gospel currently includes approximately 10 million members on five continents.
With the intellectual, spiritual and doctrinal formation of his followers in mind, Msgr. João completed Thomistic theological studies with great professors from the University of Salamanca and the Angelicum in Rome. Among them are Fr. Victorino Rodríguez y Rodríguez OP, Fr. Antonio Royo Marín OP, Fr. Fernando Castaño OP, Fr. Esteban Gómez OP, Fr Arturo Alonso Lobo OP, Fr. Raimondo Spiazzi OP and Fr Armando Bandera OP. In addition to studying Law at the traditional Largo São Francisco Faculty in São Paulo, he also received a licentiate in Humanities from the Madre y Maestra Pontifical Catholic University, in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic; he obtained a Master’s degree in Psychology from the Catholic University of Bogotá, Colombia; a Doctorate in Canon Law from the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas (Angelicum) in Rome, as well as in Theology from the Pontifical Bolivarian University in Medellin, Colombia.
Msgr. João is also a member of the International Society of Thomas Aquinas (SITA), of the Marian Academy of Aparecida, and was a member of the Pontifical Academy of the Immaculate. He was decorated in several countries for his cultural and scientific activity, receiving the Sciences Medal of Mexico and the Anchieta Medal, considered the highest award of honour in the city of São Paulo.
Beyond the numerous secondary schools he has opened in various cities of Brazil and in Portugal, Canada, Colombia, Paraguay, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala and Mozambique, Msgr. João also founded the Aristotelian-Thomistic Philosophical Institute (IFAT) and the St. Thomas Aquinas Theological Institute (ITTA), as well as the St. Scholastica Philosophical-Theological Institute (IFTE), for the feminine branch.
But there have been no lack of setbacks and difficulties for Msgr. João, whether of a physical nature, such as the illnesses he has suffered, which have almost brought him to the gates of death several times; or of a moral nature, such as the incomprehension he has had to face on the part of some of those closest to him. But in all these situations, he could say with the Psalmist, “I sought the Lord, and He answered me, and delivered me from all fears” (Ps 34:5).
Nevertheless, it was easy for him to discern the true way by which God’s call had been leading him, ever since the dawning of his consciousness. A mysterious restlessness consumed his soul, inviting him to greater and greater heights. Close the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar – for which, from his earliest childhood, a special ardour had been engraved in his heart – his whole being not only became calm, but invariably, he also felt somehow angelized and willing to make every sacrifice. How to draw even closer to Him, be one with Him, be another Him, knowing Him and loving Him with more fervour, thereby serving the Church and society with perfection? Seeking, with the help of grace, to always keep the celibacy and chastity he had promised to God decades earlier, the heartfelt desire arose, irresistible and clear as the sun, to tread the path of the priesthood, thus making the formal culmination of his journey of total self-giving to God and to the cause of the Holy Catholic Church. “I wish to unite myself more to Jesus, I want to be His means to absolve all those seeking divine forgiveness, I want to be consumed like a host in His service for the benefit of my brothers and sisters” (Letter, 25/4 / 2005).
Accordingly, on June 15, 2005, with 14 other members of the Heralds of the Gospel, Msgr. João was ordained a Priest in the Basilica of Our Lady of Carmel in São Paulo. For the building up of this priestly branch of his work, he founded the Clerical Society of Apostolic Life Virgo Flos Carmeli. Approved by His Holiness Benedict XVI on April 21, 2009, it now comprises 161 clerics and over 300 seminarians.
With the priestly branch, the activities of Msgr. João took on a much wider scope. Participating in his tireless zeal, the Herald priests have undertaken the conquest of souls around the world: they attend the sick in homes and hospitals, hear Confessions in parishes, preach and provide catechesis, reintegrate families into communion with the Church… Meticulous beauty in gestures during liturgical celebrations, orthodoxy of doctrine and, above all, the unblemished practice of virtue are points that most evince the uprightness and discipline of Msgr. João. Enthused by his example, it is easy for them to imitate him.
To aid needy ecclesial works, Msgr. João created, within the Heralds of the Gospel association in Brazil, the Mercy Help Fund, which collects donations through direct mail.
In the same apostolic spirit, he founded the “Heralds of the Gospel” magazine, with a circulation of almost one million monthly copies in four languages, and the academic journal Lumen Veritatis. Of special note among the over 200 books and articles he has published in five continents, are: “Mother of the Good Council” (1992 and 1995), São Paulo-New York, published in Portuguese, Italian, English and Albanian; “Dona Lucilia” (1995 and 2013), Rome-São Paulo, published in Portuguese, Spanish and English; “Pequeno Ofício da Imaculada Conceição Comentado [The Little Office of the Immaculate Conception Commented]” (1997 and 2010), São Paulo, in 2 volumes; “Fatima, Aurora of the Third Millennium” (1998 – Best Seller), published in Portuguese, Spanish, English, Italian, French and Polish, with over two million copies distributed in over 30 countries; the collection “New Insights on the Gospels” (2012-2014), Rome-São Paulo, in 7 volumes, published in Portuguese, Italian, Spanish and English. All these works reveal great theological richness and depth, meriting praise from high-ranking dignitaries of the Roman Curia and from the Episcopate in general.
A lover of beauty as a reflection of God, Msgr. João has built several churches in polychromatic Gothic style, choosing every detail of the colour combinations, forms and stained glass. Particularly outstanding among these is Our Lady of the Rosary in Caieiras, São Paulo, solemnly dedicated on February 24, 2008 by his Eminence Cardinal Franc Rodé, and later raised to a Minor Basilica, on April 21, 2012. Additionally, the constitution and musical performance of the numerous choirs and orchestras of the Heralds, the designing of chalices, monstrances and other sacred objects, the creation of religious habits, the style of the monasteries and the beautiful layout of books and magazines are so many other fruits of his incomparable artistic sense, which has become increasingly supernatural over the years.
In 2008, just three years after his ordination, Msgr. João was appointed by Benedict XVI as Honorary Canon of the Papal Basilica of Saint Mary Major in Rome, and Protonotary Apostolic. On August 15, 2009, on the occasion of his seventieth birthday, the same Holy Father, in recognition of his work for the Holy Church, conferred upon Msgr. João, by the hands of his Eminence Cardinal Franc Rodé, Prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice Medal, one of the highest honours granted by the Pope for distinguished service to the Holy Church and the Roman Pontiff. On that solemnity, his Eminence Cardinal Rodé declared: “In presenting you with the medal with which the Holy Father wished to reward your merits, the words of St. Bernard at the beginning of his treatise ‘De laude novae militiae’ come to mind: ‘We hear that a new kind of chivalry has recently appeared on the earth.’ These words could also apply to the present moment. Indeed, thanks to Your Excellency, a new chivalry, not secular, but religious, has arisen with a new ideal of sanctity and a heroic commitment to the Church. In this undertaking, born in your noble heart, we cannot but see a special grace given to the Church, an act of Divine Providence in view of the needs of today’s world.”