News / Americas

Pope Francis Heads to Less Catholic, More Restive Brazil

A man sells posters of Pope's visit of World Youth Day cross in Rio de Janeiro, July 18, 2013.
A man sells posters of Pope's visit of World Youth Day cross in Rio de Janeiro, July 18, 2013.
Reuters
Five months after becoming the first non-European pontiff in 13 centuries, Pope Francis makes his debut trip abroad next week by returning to Latin America for a gathering of young faithful in Brazil, the world's largest Roman Catholic country.
 
Francis, an Argentine, confirmed shortly after he assumed the papacy that he would head to his home region for World Youth Day, a weeklong visit beginning on Monday.
 
The biennial event, expected to draw more than a million visitors to Rio de Janeiro and nearby sites, is part of the Church's effort to energize Catholics at a time when inroads by rival faiths and secularism continue to thin its flock.
 
It also comes at a time when youth in Brazil, galvanized by a series of mass protests that erupted across the country last month, have grown increasingly vocal about their discontent with the status quo in Latin America's biggest country.
 
Francis' efforts to put a simpler stamp on the papacy and his origins in the ranks of the region's priests have raised hopes for many of the faithful in Brazil.
 
So has his stated intent to root out the child sexual abuse scandal that has rattled the Church and to place more emphasis on pastoral work - day-to-day ministry, as opposed to the doctrinaire focus favored by Benedict, his predecessor.
 
“This new pope is more simple,” said Amanda Martins, a 21-year-old Catholic attending mass near SIao Paulo this month. “Maybe his visit can strengthen the Church.”
 
Reinforcement
 
The Church could use reinforcement in Latin America, a historical stronghold. Though still home to more Catholics than any other region, the fervor has faded because of growth by protestant faiths and because consumer-focused city-dwellers have eclipsed the rural populace in which Catholicism took root.
 
The percentage of Latin Americans who identify as Catholic fell to 72 percent in 2010 from about 90 percent in 1910, according to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.
 
“The pope is coming as a pastor,” said Cardinal Raymundo Damasceno, archbishop of Nossa Senhora de Aparecida, a sanctuary near SIao Paulo that Francis will visit. “His message will touch on the problems of the people and seek to shed light on the challenges ahead for the Church and society.”
 
For Brazil's 120 million Catholics, challenges abound.
 
As a near decade-long economic boom gives way to slower growth, the country is roiling from popular protests. More than 1 million people hit the streets in June to protest against everything from rising prices to bad government and poor public schools and hospitals.
 
The biggest demonstrations subsided, but small protests continue, occasionally turning violent. Late on Wednesday, police clashed with looters and vandals who smashed windows and burned garbage in two upscale Rio neighborhoods.
 
The initial protests successfully used a major international soccer event as a backdrop, contrasting the billions of dollars needed to host the 2014 World Cup with shortfalls in public services. Authorities hope the papal visit will not provide a similar stage.
 
Along with expected protests by feminists, gay-rights groups and others who oppose the Church's stance on social issues, authorities fear demonstrators will focus on the 350 million reais ($158 million) that organizers say the event could cost. Most of that will be paid by participants and sponsors, organizers say, but millions more will be needed from public coffers to ensure security, transportation and readiness.
 
Sins of officials
 
“Pope Francis isn't to blame for the sins of Brazilian government officials,” said Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes this week.
 
The Vatican itself has played down security concerns.
 
Francis plans to travel around the city in an open jeep, not the bullet-proof vehicles used since a would-be assassin shot and wounded Pope John Paul II in 1981.
 
“We think everyone will understand that the pope's message is one of solidarity and peaceful coexistence,” Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, said this week.
 
Just in case, federal and local officials are deploying 22,000 soldiers, police and other security officials. To help ease traffic in Rio, a city routinely crippled by gridlock, authorities declared holidays for the peak days of the visit.
 
In addition to a seaside speech in Rio's Copacabana neighborhood and a stroll through a well-known shantytown, Francis is scheduled to meet with President Dilma Rousseff and travel to the Aparecida shrine and a remote pasture west of Rio, where the final two days of the gathering will be held.
 
Francis has asked to stay in a room in a church residence similar to that of other priests, not a big suite organizers had prepared.
 
Still, the event is a major spectacle.
 
The altar being assembled in Copacabana, a terraced stage with four circular mini-altars and a backdrop of giant screens, dwarfs the stage used by the Rolling Stones and others for major concerts on the same spot in recent years. About 10,000 busses will ferry worshippers to and from the pasture in rural Rio.
 
“It's a spectacle to show the world that the Church still exists and is very much alive,” says Leonardo Boff, a prominent Brazilian theologian and former Catholic priest.
 
Rio's beaches and other tourist hot spots are already buzzing with Catholic visitors, many of them donning colorful T-shirts and flags from their countries of origin.
 
Even the sand sculptors along the Copacabana shoreline, known for suggestive beach statues of near-naked women, have gotten into the spirit.
 
“It wasn't cool to have that big butt sticking out,” said Ubiratan dos Santos, a sculptor, telling a local newspaper why one of his creations now wears a skirt instead of her usual thong.

You May Like

Ukraine Purges Interior Ministry Leadership With Pro-Russian Ties

Interior Minister Avakov says 91 people 'in positions of leadership' have been fired, including 8 generals found to have links to past pro-Moscow governments More

US Airlines Point to Additional Problems of any Ebola Travel Ban

Airline officials note that even under travel ban, they may not be able to determine where passenger set out from, as there are no direct flights from Liberia, Guinea or Sierra Leone More

Nigerian President to Seek Another Term

Goodluck Jonathan has faced intense criticism for failing to stop Boko Haram militants More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
October 25, 2014 4:21 PM
Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukraine

Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.

All About America

AppleAndroid

More Americas News

US Coast Guard Rescues 33 Cubans at Sea

Because the overloaded boat did not make landfall, those rescued will be returned to Cuba
More

Search Underway at New Site in Mexico Missing Students Case

This week marked one month since the students went missing after clashing with police in mysterious circumstances
More

Public Transport in Latin America, Asia Most Dangerous for Women

Thousands of women and gender experts were questioned to create the listing
More

Kerry Lays Wreath for Slain Canadian Soldier

World has been witness to Canada's strength in face of tragedy, he says
More

Crowds Gather for Funeral of Canadian Soldier Killed in Ottawa

Corporal Nathan Cirillo, 24, was shot dead in last week near Canada's parliament building in attack allegedly carried out by convert to Islam
More

Mexico Makes New Arrests in Student Disappearances

Attorney General says four more gang members from the Guerreros Unidos cartel who 'organized the disappearance' of the teacher trainees are in custody
More