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

ASEAN Ministers Set to Push for South China Sea Agreements

According to documents obtained by VOA Khmer, ministers will stand up for 'freedom of navigation, unimpeded lawful maritime commerce, trade and over flight' More

Puerto Rico Defaults on $58M Debt Payment

Payment was due Saturday, default is first in country's 117 years as a United States possession More

Turkish Public Fears Jihadists More Than Kurds

Turkey facing twin threats of terrorism by Islamic State and PKK Kurdish separatists, says President Erdogan’s ruling AK Party More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Communityi
X
Sharon Behn
August 03, 2015 2:23 PM
A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Community

A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Bangkok Warned It Soon Could Be Submerged

Italy's Venice and America's New Orleans are not the only cities gradually submerging. The nearly ten million residents of the Bangkok urban area now must confront warnings the city could become uninhabitable in a few decades. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from the Thai capital.
Video

Video Inclusive Gym Gets People With Disabilities in Fitness Spirit

Individuals with special needs are 58 percent more likely to be obese than the general population. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, they also have an increased likelihood of anxiety, depression and social isolation. But a sports club outside Washington wants to make a difference in these people's lives. With Carol Pearson narrating, VOA's June Soh reports.
Video

Video Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missions

Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Special Olympics Show Competitors' Skill, Determination

Special Olympics competitions will wrap up Saturday in Los Angeles, and the closing ceremony for athletes with intellectual disabilities will be held Sunday night. In a week of competition, athletes have shown what they can do through skill and determination. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Civil Rights Leaders Struggled to Achieve Voting Rights Act

Fifty years ago, lawmakers approved, and U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signed, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The measure outlawed racial discrimination in voting, giving millions of blacks in many parts of the southern United States federal enforcement of the right to vote. Correspondent Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights leaders who were on the front lines in the struggle for voting rights.
Video

Video Shooter’s Grill: Serving Food with a Touch of the Second Amendment

Shooter's Grill, a restaurant in Rifle, Colorado, attracts visitors from all over the world as well as local patrons. The reason? Waitresses openly carry loaded firearms as they serve food, and customers are welcome to carry them, too. VOA's Enming Liu and Lin Yang paid a visit to Shooter's Grill, and heard different opinions about this unique establishment.
Video

Video Despite Controversy, Business Owner Continues Sale of Confederate Flags

At Cooter’s, a store in rural Sperryville, Virginia, about 120 kilometers west of Washington, D.C., Confederate flags are flying off the shelves. The red, white and blue battle flag, with 13 white stars representing the Confederate states, was carried by southern forces during the U.S. Civil War in the 1860s. The South had seceded from the Union over several key issues of disagreement, including slavery. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

VOA Blogs

More Americas News

Venezuela Prevents Opposition Leader From Running

Election officials reject Maria Corina Machado's attempt to register as a candidate Monday for upcoming congressional elections
More

Mexico City Mayor Vows Full Probe of Journalist Slaying

Journalist groups had expressed fears authorities would not consider Ruben Espinosa's murder as being related to his work, even though colleagues say he fled state he covered fearing for his safety
More

Puerto Rico Defaults on $58M Debt Payment

Payment was due Saturday, default is first in country's 117 years as a United States possession
More

Brazilian Police Arrest Lula Minister in Bribery Scandal

Jose Dirceu is one of most senior members of ruling Workers' Party to be detained so far in corruption scandal engulfing state-run oil company Petrobras
More

Poll: Disapproval of Chile's Bachelet Hits Record High

Chileans have soured on president as slow economic growth and scandals involving money in politics have marred her message of addressing deep inequality
More

IOC to Test Rio's Olympic Water Venues for Viruses

Decision prompted by Associated Press investigation published last week revealing high counts of viruses directly linked to human sewage in Olympic waters
More