Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Pope Francis to visit shrine where he called for change

RIO DE JANEIRO – Pope Francis' visit Wednesday to Aparecida, a small Brazilian city that is home to the country's most important Roman Catholic shrine, is meant as a message to the world.
It was there in 2007 that Francis, then Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires, authored a document with fellow bishops calling for Catholics in Latin America to become missionaries and combat societal ills such as inequality, corruption and violence.
"The language that the bishops used in Aparecida is the language that the church is using now," says Robert Coogan, an American priest in Mexico and an observer of the Latin American church.
"Instead of thinking, 'The priests have to do something,' it's for each person to think: 'I have to do something. I have to make a difference.' "
The trip to Aparecida marks Francis' first event during World Youth Day, a gathering of more than 300,000 Catholics from the world over. He arrived Monday to throngs of well-wishers who excitedly closed in on his convoy in Rio's streets and prevented the pontiff from reaching his reception ceremony on time.
Many pilgrims and Catholics in Brazil – the world's most populous Catholic country – also have expressed hopes that Francis' visit and participation in World Youth Day can bring about renewal in a region with a receding congregation.
"We see some of the same energy (with young Catholics) that we haven't seen since Pope John Paul II, says Andrew Chesnut, religion studies professor at Virginia Commonwealth University. "But whether it translates into numbers or real growth, especially in Latin America, where the church is most concerned, remains to be seen."
The gathering has proved popular since John Paul started it in 1987 as an encounter between young people and the pontiff – although attendance is slightly lower here in comparison to past years. Others in the church say the event serves a practical purpose: keeping youngsters committed to the Catholic faith and involved in church life.
"Any organization that doesn't look after its young people doesn't have much of a future. The Catholic Church is no different," Mexican Bishop Raúl Vera says.
Francis has spoken of his concern for young people, especially those growing up poor and without opportunities in tough economic times.
"Young people are an important part of society and should not been seen as apart from it," papal spokesman Federico Lombardi told reporters in Rio.
The week's World Youth Day agenda includes morning catechism classes, religious celebrations and a final celebration of Mass with the pope that is expected to attract more than 1 million attendees.
Francis expanded his own agenda to include themes important to his papacy such as simplicity and solidarity with the poor. He's scheduled to inaugurate an addiction treatment center in a Catholic Hospital on Wednesday and visit with residents of a shanty the next day.
Pope Francis spent Tuesday resting.
His arrival animated tens of thousands of young Catholics cramming the Rio city center, as they waved flags, chanted slogans and swarmed the four-door Fiat he was riding in.
"He's great, his style is simple and easy going," says David Bispo, who operates a popular bar in a shantytown known here as a favela. "I think that the pope will help bring young people back to the Catholic Church."


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