Pope visits Brazil amid social upheaval
22 July 2013, 16:13
Rio De Janeiro - Bringing his message of a "poor Church for the
poor," Pope Francis headed for Brazil on Monday to find a country facing a
shrinking Catholic flock and anger over government waste.
Francis left Rome for Rio de Janeiro shortly before 07:00 GMT, embarking on
his first foreign trip abroad since becoming pontiff. In keeping with his
trademark simplicity, the 76-year-old carried his own hand luggage onto the
Meanwhile, pilgrims from around the world were gathering in Rio for World
Youth Day, arriving by bus from neighbouring nations or landing by plane from
across the ocean to greet the first pope from Latin America.
As men in swim trunks and women in tiny bikinis dived in the waves, workers
climbed scaffolding on Copacabana beach on Sunday to finish the ornate stage
that the pope will use to greet throngs of young people on Thursday.
Nuns checked in at hotels while other pilgrims walked on the beach,
flaunting the colours of their countries as if it was already the 2014 World Cup.
More than one million people are expected for the festivities.
"We have a Jesuit pope who is eternally simple, humble, who is
revolutionising the Catholic Church," said Antonio Prada, a 27-year-old
Venezuelan clad in a T-shirt in his country's yellow, blue and red colours.
"His message is that we should be like Christ, that he's the example to
follow," Prada said as he walked along Copacabana's swirling, black and
Speaking from the Vatican on Sunday, Pope Francis said: "Everybody who
is going to Rio wants to hear Jesus. And they want to ask him: 'Jesus, what
must I do with my life, what is my path?'"
The Argentine pope's message of a simpler church, closer to the people, may
strike a nerve in this emerging power. Brazil has become richer in time but
struggles with corruption and lagging public services that brought some one
million protesters to the streets last month.
Despite the past protests, which were sometimes marred by violence, the pope
is ditching his armoured "Popemobile" for an open-top jeep to have
direct contact with the people. Authorities are deploying 30 000 troops and
police in the crime-riddled city.
During his week-long visit, Francis will see the faces of Brazil's success
and struggles, starting with a meeting on Monday with President Dilma Rousseff
and followed by a visit to one of Rio's sprawling favelas, or slums, on
While Francis meets Rousseff in the Rio state governor's palace, atheists
and the Anonymous protest group plan to demonstrate outside against the $53m
spent from public coffers for the pope's visit.
"Our leaders must be more in touch with the pope and invest more in the
country," said Adilson de Sena, 60, who rents beach chairs on Copacabana.
Pointing to the stage, he said: "The pope is simple, humble. I think he's
going to think this was too much for him."
Edina Maria Perreira Lima, a 49-year-old retired cook, embodies some of
Brazil's woes: She needs to treat a stomach ailment but can't afford health
insurance - and thieves snatched her purse last week.
"The government is putting a facade for the world to see the best of
Brazil. But behind this facade, people are dying in hospitals," she said
on the beach next to the pope's stage.
While Perreira is happy the pope is bringing a message of peace, she is
among Brazil's growing Evangelical population because "it speaks more
about God and Catholics speak more about saints".
Stemming the flow of Catholics toward Protestantism or secularism is one the
pope's challenges since he succeeded Benedict XVI in March. He has since
championed a youthful, vibrant church.
More than 90% of Brazilians identified as Catholic in 1970, according to the
census. A poll by Datafolha Institute showed Sunday 57% now call themselves
Catholic, while 28% say they are Evangelicals.
Francis is scheduled to take a break on Tuesday and travel on Wednesday to
the Shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida, a pilgrimage site located halfway between
Sao Paulo and Rio.