Pope Francis’ first trip abroad, to Brazil, is being hailed as a success by prelates of the Roman Catholic Church. Critics say that so far, however, the new pope has brought a change of style, not substance.
He carried his own bag during his travels, and he visited a slum in Rio de Janeiro.
And his message to his young followers sounded downright subversive.
“Be revolutionaries. I ask you to swim against the tide. Yes, I am asking you to rebel.” he said.
On his way back to Rome, the pope spoke to reporters at length about difficult issues, including gay priests.
“If a person is gay and seeks the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge him," he asked.
The pope did not negate Church teaching that homosexuality is a sin. But his words do reflect a more compassionate approach to controversial issues than that of his predecessors.
Jon O’Brien, president of Catholics for Choice, which opposes the church’s ban on abortion and contraception, said, “It feels good as a Catholic to have a leader who’s not again talking to us about why we can’t use condoms; again he’s not beating up on gays; or he’s not saying that women who have abortions are bad.”
He said the rhetoric, though, needs to be followed by real change.
“And we’re not seeing a lot of movement by Pope Francis, about changing some of the teachings that are hugely problematic for Catholics,” he said.
Still, Francis' first trip abroad suggests that he has a way with large crowds of the faithful, not seen since the papacy of John Paul II.