RIO DE JANEIRO -- Pope Francis, dubbed the "slum pope" for his work with the poor, received a rapturous welcome yesterday from one of Rio's most violent shantytowns and demanded that the world's wealthy end the injustices that have left the poor on the margins of society.
He received an even more frenzied welcome as he opened a rain-soaked World Youth Day in a far different setting: Copacabana Beach.
In between, he showed off some of his offbeat -- almost rebellious -- personality, telling pilgrims from his native Argentina that he wanted them to make trouble, shake things up in their dioceses and make a "mess" by going out into the streets."I want to see the church get closer to the people. I want to get rid of clericalism, the mundane, this closing ourselves off within ourselves, in our parishes, schools or structures. Because these need to get out!" he said, speaking off the cuff in Spanish.
He put that into practice yesterday. Amid the stench of raw sewage and the shrieks of residents, Francis made his way through the Varginha shantytown, part of a violent region known as the Gaza Strip.
The 76-year-old Argentine seemed entirely at home, wading into the cheering crowds, kissing residents young and old and telling them the Roman Catholic Church was on their side.
"No one can remain insensitive to the inequalities that persist in the world!" Francis told a crowd of thousands who braved a cold rain and stood in a muddy soccer field to welcome him. "No amount of peace-building will be able to last, nor will harmony and happiness be attained in a society that ignores, pushes to the margins or excludes a part of itself." -- AP