Monsignor João Scognamiglio Clá Dias, E.P., an honorary canon of the Papal Basilica of Saint Mary Major in Rome, is the founder of the international private association of Christ’s faithful of pontifical right Heralds of the Gospel, of the clerical society of apostolic life Virgo Flos Carmeli and of the society of apostolic life for women Regina Virginum. He is currently the superior general of Virgo Flos Carmeli and president general of Heralds of the Gospel.
A native of São Paulo, Brazil, Monsignor João Scognamiglio Clá Dias was born on August 15, 1939. His parents, António Clá Dias and Annitta Scognamiglio Clá Dias, were immigrants from Europe. His father, a Spaniard from Cádiz, and his mother, an Italian from Rome, imbued their home with a deep Catholic faith, which they had received from their forebears and which was still vibrant. This lively faith manifested itself early in João.
In school, he sought to organize a movement among his classmates to help young people practice a virtuous life. He joined the Marian Congregations, and at the invitation of a teacher, entered the Third Order of the Discalced Carmelites of the Strict Observance, on May 23, 1956 in the city of São Paulo. This event deeply marked his life.
He completed his secondary education at the Colégio Estadual Roosevelt and studied law at the prestigious School of Law of the University of São Paulo, commonly known as the Faculdade de Direito do Largo de São Francisco. During his post-secondary studies, in the turbulent years preceding the Sorbonne revolution of May 1968, he shone as an active Catholic university leader.
He fulfilled his obligatory military service with the 7th Company of Guards of the Brazilian Army based in São Paulo which he carried out with distinction. His achievements were recognized when he was awarded one of the highest distinctions granted by the Brazilian military, the prestigious medal Marechal Hermes – Aplicação e Estudo. He also had the opportunity to engage in challenging activities like parachuting.
Determined to dedicate himself to the apostolate, his fidelity to the Saint Peter and fully conscience of the necessity of a complete doctrinal formation, led him to study theology with the great professors of the University of Salamanca, Spain, such as, the Reverend Arturo Alonso Lobo, O.P., the Reverend Marcelino Cabreros de Anta, C.M.F., the Reverend Victorino Rodríguez y Rodríguez, O.P., the Reverend Esteban Gómez, O.P., the Reverend Antonio Royo Marín, O.P., the Reverend Teófilo Urdánoz, O.P., and the Reverend Armando Bandera, O.P. In grateful recognition to his teachers he later published short biographies of many of them in English and Spanish, such as, Antonio Royo Marin, O.P.: A Master on the Spiritual Life, a Brilliant Preacher, and a Famous Writer, and Fr. Cabreros de Anta, C.M.F.: A Firm Pillar of Canon Law in Our Century.
His desire for perfection spurred him to make a first attempt to form a community in a former Benedictine edifice in São Paulo in 1970. None of the companions that joined him in that first attempt persevered. But, in spite of numerous difficulties, a community finally took root and blossomed into a movement for evangelization led by Monsignor João Clá. From this initial foundation many others were established where members can dedicate themselves to prayer and to study in preparation for works of evangelization. This movement later obtained canonical recognition as a Private Association of Christ’s Faithful, the Heralds of the Gospel, in the diocese of Campo Limpo, Brazil.
Spreading beyond the borders of Brazil, houses were established in more than twenty countries. Consequently it was elevated to a Private Association of Christ’s Faithful of Pontifical Right by the Pontifical Council of the Laity on February 22, 2001. Today it carries out activities in seventy-eight countries on five continents. Shortly after receiving pontifical approbation, the Vicariate of Rome entrusted the care of the Church of St. Benedetto in Piscinula to the Heralds of the Gospel.
As President General of Heralds of the Gospel, Monsignor João Clá, discerned a similar grace among a group of young women who wanted to consecrate themselves to the apostolate. For this reason he saw the need to establish a branch for women who could live in community with a lifestyle similar to the communities of men. The branch of women has likewise witnessed rapid growth and the Holy Father formally recognized the Society of Apostolic Life Regina Virginum on April 4, 2009.
All of Monsignor João Clá’s undertakings are a testimony to his faith, a faith that is lively and bold, joyful and intrepid. Endowed with a remarkable gift for oratory, he has lectured to packed audiences in Europe and America demonstrating an ability to inflame hearts with enthusiasm for the truths of the faith, the courage to practice virtue and the certainty of the victory of the Holy Catholic Church in the fight against the materialism, the hedonism and the relativism of our time.
The clearest expression of his desire to serve the Lord and his brethren was Monsignor João Clá’s decision to prepare for the priestly ministry with some of his companions. Since the remote origins of Heralds of the Gospel can be traced to that group of men who become members of the Third Order of Carmel, it was only natural that a Carmelite bishop, the Most Reverend Lucio Angelo Renna, Bishop of Avezzano, Italy, would ordain the first members of the association to the priesthood.
This initial group of men were ordained together with Monsignor João Clá on June 15, 2005, in the same Basilica of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, where fifty years earlier, he began his activities in the service of the Church and his brethren. Cardinal Cláudio Hummes, the Archbishop of São Paulo, honored the occasion with his presence. Seven bishops and seventy priests concelebrated.
These priests of the Heralds of the Gospel and those which followed formed the Clerical Society of Apostolic Life Virgo Flos Carmeli, which was approved by Pope Benedict XVI on April 4, 2009. Currently Monsignor João Clá, as the founder of Virgo Flos Carmeli, is its superior general.
Gifted with a talent for music, he has established more than fifty choirs and symphonic bands in twenty-four countries. Until recently he personally directed the Heralds of the Gospel’s International Choir and Orchestra , which has performed in famous churches and theaters throughout Europe and the Americas.
Moved by the desire to extend the reach of his apostolate, Monsignor João Clá has written and published numerous books, which have enjoyed enormous success. While many of them have had print-runs in the hundreds of thousands, some of them have reached a circulation of more than a million copies. Many of these works have also been translated from the Portuguese into Spanish, English, Italian, French, Polish, and Albanian. Some of the titles include: Fatima, Aurora of the Third Millennium, The Rosary: a Prayer of Peace, The Sacred Heart of Jesus: a Treasure of Goodness and of Love, The Miraculous Medal: Story and Celestial Promises, Jacinta and Francisco, the privileged of Mary, The Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary, Daily Prayers. Four works are especially noteworthy because of the quality of the research undertaken and for their erudition: The Mother of Good Counsel of Genazzano, Dona Lucilia, Commentaries on the Little Office of the Immaculate Conception and New Insights on the Gospel.
He is member of various scholarly organizations, such as, the International Society of Thomas Aquinas and the Marian Academy of Aparecida, and his academic, cultural and scientific achievements have been recognized internationally. For example, Mexico awarded him its Medal of Science. Since 2002 he is a regular contributor to Heralds of the Gospel Magazine, where write commentaries on the Gospel. The magazine is published in Portuguese, English, Spanish and Italian.
In October 2007 Monsignor João Clá founded and has contributed to the academic journal Lumen Veritatis published by the Aristotelian-Thomist Philosophical Institute (Instituto Filosófico Aristotélico-Tomista – IFAT) and the Saint Thomas Aquinas Theological Institute (Instituto Teológico São Tomás de Aquino – ITTA).
To promote works of apostolate and charity, especially among the poor and underprivileged, Monsignor João Clá established a charitable fund, called Fundo Misericordia in order to collect and offer direct assistance to individuals and to institutions directly involved in providing aid to the needy in Brazil.
Under his guidance and with his continual encouragement, the Heralds of the Gospel International Academy opened its doors to students in 2005 significantly broadening its outreach and initiating a new era in its academic programs and activities.
His most recent accomplishments include the building of the church Our Lady of the Rosary located by the seminary of the Heralds of the Gospel. This church was raised to the rank of minor basilica by Benedict XVI in 2012. Thanks to his initiative and encouragement, several other important construction projects have been successfully concluded or are in advanced stages. This includes the notable motherhouse of the Society of Apostolic Life Regina Virginum as well as other seminaries, churches and centers for evangelization.
In recognition of Monsignor João Clá’s long and dedicated service to the Church, the Holy Father Benedict XVI awarded him the “Pro Eclesia et Pontifice” Medal, on August 15, 2009. One of the highest honors bestowed by the Supreme Pontiff, it is given to those who distinguish themselves by their endeavors on behalf of the Church and the Roman Pontiff. The medal was personally delivered to Monsignor João Clá by Cardinal Franc Rodé, Prefect of the Congregation for the Institutes of Consecrated Life and the Societies of Apostolic Life.