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

Scotland Vote Raises Questions of International Law

Experts say self-determination, as defined and protected by international law, confined narrowly to independence movements in process of de-colonization More

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

Conservationists hail ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015 More

Annual Military Exercise Takes on New Meaning for Ukraine Troops

Troops from 15 nations participating in annual event, 'Rapid Trident' in western Ukraine More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Russian Economy Reeling After New Western Sanctionsi
X
September 18, 2014 2:28 AM
A new wave of Western sanctions is hitting Russia’s economy hard. State-owned energy firms continue to bleed profits and Russia’s national currency plunged to a new low this week after the U.S. and the European Union announced new sanctions to punish Russia's aggressive stance in eastern Ukraine. But as Mil Arcega reports, the sanctions could also prove costly for European and American companies.
Video

Video Russian Economy Reeling After New Western Sanctions

A new wave of Western sanctions is hitting Russia’s economy hard. State-owned energy firms continue to bleed profits and Russia’s national currency plunged to a new low this week after the U.S. and the European Union announced new sanctions to punish Russia's aggressive stance in eastern Ukraine. But as Mil Arcega reports, the sanctions could also prove costly for European and American companies.
Video

Video Belgian Researchers Discover Way to Block Cancer Metastasis

Cancer remains one of the deadliest diseases, despite many new methods to combat it. Modern medicine has treatments to prevent the growth of primary tumor cells. But most cancer deaths are caused by metastasis, the stage when primary tumor cells change and move to other parts of the body. A team of Belgian scientists says it has found a way to prevent that process. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Mogadishu's Flood of Foreign Workers Leaves Somalis Out of Work

Unemployment and conflict has forced many young Somalians out of the country in search of a better life. But a newfound stability in the once-lawless nation has created hope — and jobs — which, some say, are too often being filled by foreigners. Abdulaziz Billow reports from Mogadishu.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.
Video

Video NASA Picks Boeing, SpaceX to Carry Astronauts Into Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, has chosen Boeing and SpaceX companies to build the next generation of spacecraft that will carry U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station by the year 2017. The deal with private industry enables NASA to end its dependence on Russia to send space crews into low Earth orbit and back. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Future of Ukrainian Former President's Estate Uncertain

More than six months after Ukraine's former President Viktor Yanukovych fled revolution to Russia, authorities have yet to gain control of his palatial estate. Protesters occupy the grounds and opened it to tourists but they are also refusing to turn it over to the state. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Mezhigirya, just north of Kyiv.
Video

Video China Muslims Work to Change Perceptions After Knife Attacks

China says its has sentenced three men to death and one woman to life in prison for a deadly knife attack in March that left more than 30 dead and 140 injured. Beijing says Muslim militants from China's restive western region of Xinjiang carried out the attacks. Now, more than six months after the incident, residents in the city are still coping with the aftermath. VOA's Bill Ide has more from Kunming.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid

More Americas News

Video Dehydration Is Top Killer of Southern Arizona's Migrants

US Border Patrol's search and rescue unit launches 'blue blinking light of life program' - a series of poles strategically placed throughout desert that emit high-intensity blue light
More

United States Steps up Pressure on Guatemala over Labor Rights

Trade representative says Obama administration would push ahead with legal action under free trade agreement to make Guatemala meet international standards
More

Video US Attempts Crackdown on Trafficking Along Southern Border

Nogales, Arizona, notoriously known as 'tunnel city,' used by traffickers to smuggle humans, narcotics into US and Border Patrol responds with new technologies
More

Video Arizona Non-Profit Helps Keep Dehydrated Migrants Alive

The Sonoran Desert, a common crossing point for illegal immigrants, is one of North America's hottest places
More

Colombian National Pleads Guilty to Killing of US Drug Agent

Andres Garcia entered plea of guilty at district court in southeastern state of Virginia; will be sentenced in December
More

Attack on Colombian Police Kills 7

Defense ministry vows to 'maintain and intensify' operations against armed groups, drug traffickers following the attack
More