Saturday, July 27, 2013

Pope draws 3 million in Rio de Janeiro for vigil aimed at shaking up Catholic Church

Catholic faithful crowd the streets and Copacabana Beach as Pope Francis gives mass to those attending the World Youth Day.

Catholic faithful crowd the streets and Copacabana Beach as Pope Francis gives mass to those attending the World Youth Day. Photo: Reuters

Rio de Janeiro: Pope Francis drew a reported 3 million flag-waving, rosary-toting faithful to Rio's Copacabana beach on Saturday for the final evening of World Youth Day, hours after he chastised the Brazilian church for failing to stem the "exodus" of Catholics to evangelical congregations.

The pontiff also urged Brazilians to turn to dialogue, rather than violence, as it seeks to tackle its economic disparity and to show greater respect for the Amazon rainforest and the indigenous peoples who live there.

Francis headed into the final hours of his first international trip riding a remarkable wave of popularity: By the time his open-sided car reached the stage for the vigil service Saturday night, the back seat was piled high with soccer jerseys, flags and flowers tossed to him by adoring pilgrims lining the beachfront route.

"Jesus offers us something bigger than the World Cup!" Francis said, drawing cheers from the crowd in this soccer-mad nation.


In the longest and most important speech of his four-month pontificate, Francis took a direct swipe at the "intellectual" message of the church that so characterised the pontificate of his predecessor, Benedict XVI. Speaking to Brazil's bishops, he said ordinary Catholics simply don't understand such lofty ideas and need to hear the simpler message of love, forgiveness and mercy that is at the core of the Catholic faith.

"At times we lose people because they don't understand what we are saying, because we have forgotten the language of simplicity and import an intellectualism foreign to our people," he said.

Pope Francis also urged Brazilians to rely on dialogue instead of violence, as the country with the world's biggest Catholic population grappled with its largest street protests in decades.

Citizens face the choice of either coming together in a climate of respect or losing out, Francis said, and called for more humanist economic and political systems to improve public participation and eradicate poverty.

"Between selfish indifference and violent protests there is always a possible option, dialogue," Francis said.

A bus fare increase in Sao Paulo sparked the protests last month. Unrest later spread to other cities including Rio de Janeiro, as demonstrators expanded their grievances to include corruption and poor public services. Since arriving in Rio last week on his first major international trip, Francis has attempted to address the causes of Brazil's unrest without embarrassing local leaders.

In a speech outlining the kind of church he wants, Francis asked bishops to reflect on why hundreds of thousands of Catholics have left the church for Protestant and Pentecostal congregations that have grown exponentially in recent decades in Brazil, particularly in its slums or favelas, where their charismatic message and nuts-and-bolts advice is welcome by the poor.

"Perhaps the church appeared too weak, perhaps too distant from their needs, perhaps too poor to respond to their concerns, perhaps too cold, perhaps too caught up with itself, perhaps a prisoner of its own rigid formulas," he said.

On his visit, the pope also spoke out on the dangers facing the Amazon environment and the native people living there.

"The church's presence in the Amazon basin is not that of someone with bags packed and ready to leave after having exploited everything possible," he said.

AP, Bloomberg
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