On his debut abroad the first Latin American pope put a spring in the church’s step in the world’s largest Roman Catholic country. He also””with a long, informal press conference””underlined the new style that his papacy has brought, heralding a softer tone on sexual issues, and a tougher line on Vatican cliques.
Humble and plain-speaking, Francis drew huge crowds despite the wet and cold of the southern winter. His energy and urgency was a marked break with the sense of drift that has afflicted the Latin American church. And it contrasted with two lacklustre visits by his cerebral predecessor, Benedict. A final mass on Rio’s Copacabana beach drew 1m people: a record rivalled only by John Paul II’s trips to Poland. He told them: “Do not be afraid to go and to bring Christ into every area of life, to the margins of society, even to those who seem farthest away, most indifferent.” At a meeting of bishops, he called for a new “missionary spirit” and decried “obsolete structures”. He led by example, visiting a favela (slum) and meeting the sick, young offenders and former drug addicts.
In word and deed, that was a rebuke to the church for its retreat from the poor urban peripheries, where Pentecostalist competitors have flourished. He also, by implication, challenged the Pentecostalists’ theology, often a gung-ho message of prosperity through piety, with a forthright attack on capitalism’s “disposable” culture.
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