Hope and optimism

  • July 25, 2013

Pope Francis is the first pope from Latin America and he ensured South America was the destination for his first foreign trip. So it was no surprise that the Argentine Pope was welcomed to World Youth Day in Brazil by huge, adoring crowds who brought his motorcade to a standstill.

Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI also received hero’s welcomes at WYD, but perhaps not to the degree that greeted Francis’ return to his home continent for the first time since his pontificate began in March. These youth gatherings reflect hope and optimism for the future, which is what many Catholics also see in the new Pope.

The Church is in the midst of a demographic evolution. More than 75 per cent of the world’s Catholic population of 1.2 billion now lives outside Europe, and almost 40 per cent of Catholics are Latin American. Ten per cent of them live in Brazil, the country with the most Catholics.

Pope Francis, of course, didn’t cause the transformation but he has become a face of that change and WYD in Brazil was, in a sense, a coming out event for the evolving Church. He has made no secret of the Church he wants. It is one that is evangelizing and, as he said, is poor and for the poor.

The early acts of his papacy — whether mingling with crowds, visiting inmates or preaching a daily homily — have been marked by simplicity, teaching and compassion. WYD in Brazil, a country with heart-wrenching poverty, provided a fitting backdrop to take that message beyond the Vatican and, as the world watched, give public witness to those central themes.

Even before landing, the Pope signalled his intent through a busy, people-friendly itinerary. He replaced a rest day with a full slate of activities and added events to other days. Breaking with recent precedent, he left the armoured popemobile at home to travel in an open vehicle. In addition to meeting political and civic leaders, he spent time among the people and visited with the poor, the sick, the addicted and the imprisoned, taking the same pastoral approach he favoured for years in Buenos Aires.

The theme for WYD — Go and make disciples of all nations — was selected when Benedict was Pope. But it fit easily into Francis’ vision of the 21st-century Church.

After landing in Brazil he said: “I have neither silver nor gold, but I bring with me the most precious thing given to me: Jesus Christ!”

Making disciples and cultivating social justice are what Francis has preached since the day he became Pope. So it was no surprise when the Latin American Pope stressed those themes as he gathered in Brazil with the young generation of the Church.

No surprise, but encouraging nonetheless.

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