Pope Francis urged young Catholics to shake up the church and make a “mess” in their dioceses by going out into the streets to spread the faith. It’s a message he put into practice on Thursday by visiting one of Rio’s most violent slums and opening the church’s World Youth Day on a rain-soaked Copacabana Beach.
Called the “slum pope” for his work with the poor, Francis received a rapturous welcome in the Varginha shantytown, part of a slum area of northern Rio so violent it’s known as the Gaza Strip.
The 76-year-old Argentine seemed entirely at home, wading into cheering crowds, kissing people young and old and telling them the Catholic Church is on their side.
“You, dear young people, possess a special sensitivity to injustices, but many times you become disillusioned with news about corruption of people who instead of pursuing the common good seek personal gain” Francis said. “Never get discouraged, don’t lose confidence; don’t let it extinguish your hope. Reality can change.”
“No one can remain insensitive to the inequalities that persist in the world!” Francis told the crowd of thousands who braved a cold rain and stood in a muddy soccer field to welcome him.
“No amount of peace-building will be able to last, nor will harmony and happiness be attained in a society that ignores, pushes to the margins or excludes a part of it”.
“I would like to make an appeal to those in possession of greater resources, to public authorities and to all people of good will who are working for social justice: never tire of working for a more just world, marked by greater solidarity!” he said.
He insisted more needed to be done to bridge the gap between rich and poor at the root of social injustice, in what seemed a clear reference to the Brazilian situation, and the forcible ‘pacification’ of a few of the favela slums.
It was also a message aimed at reversing the decline in the numbers of Catholics in most of Latin America, with many poor worshippers leaving the church for Pentecostal and evangelical congregations. Those churches have taken up a huge presence in favelas, or shantytowns such as Varginha, attracting souls with nuts-and-bolts advice on how to improve their lives.
The Varginha visit was one of the highlights of Francis’ weeklong trip to Brazil, his first as pope and one seemingly tailor-made for the first pontiff from the Americas.
Further surprise came though during his encounter with Argentine pilgrims, scheduled at the last minute in yet another sign of how this spontaneous pope is shaking up the Vatican’s staid and often stuffy protocol.
From the slum, Francis traveled to Rio's modern cathedral, where he received a roaring welcome from tens of thousands of young Argentines who were in Rio for the Catholic jamboree.
He told the youngsters to get out into the streets ‘to stir things up’ and spread their faith: make a “mess”. “A church that doesn’t go out and preach simply becomes a civic or humanitarian group” he emphasized.
“I want to tell you something. What is it that I expect as a consequence of World Youth Day? I want a mess. We knew that in Rio there would be great disorder, but I want trouble in the dioceses!” he said, speaking off the cuff in his native Spanish.
“I want to see the church get closer to the people. I want to get rid of clericalism, the mundane, this closing ourselves off within ourselves, in our parishes, schools or structures: because these need to get out!”
He then compared the purity of the Catholic faith with the blended fruit drinks popular in Brazil: “Please, don’t blend faith in Jesus. There are apple shakes, orange shakes, banana shakes, but, please, don’t drink a ‘licuado de fe (faith shake)!’ Faith is complete!”
The city authorities declared a holiday to ease pressure on transport and earlier in the morning Francis received a key to the city and blessed flags of the 2016 Olympic Games that Rio will host.
Rio has been one of the cities’ where protestors took to the streets with more violence during the month long demonstrations in response to dreadful public services starting with transport, plus a host of complaints tied to the improper use of public monies and corruption of government officials.
President Dilma Rousseff’s Workers’ Party,PT, lifted 40 million people from poverty under her predecessor Lula da Silva. But Brazil still ranks 14th worst in income equality, below Nigeria and Russia, among 154 countries listed in the World Bank’s 2013 World Development Indicators. In 2009, 21.4 percent of the population remained below the poverty line, according to the World Bank.
The primary concerns of Brazil’s 51 million young people are quality education and improvement in health services, according to a study this month by the federal government’s Institute for Applied Economic Research, known as IPEA. Those desires are followed by: an honest and active government, protection from crime and violence, better work opportunities, and improvements in transport and roads.