When the Holy Father arrived in Rio de Janeiro yesterday, the crowds mobbed him. They didn’t do so in anger, they wanted to be close to the Vicar of Christ, to the man who lives simplicity and holiness before them and who is the first pope from the Americas. Those crowds wanted to see the man who said simply “I have neither silver nor gold, but I bring with me the most precious thing given to me: Jesus Christ!” Jesus, said the Pope, was the most precious gift he could bring to the Brazilian people.
It is probably fair to say that this pope may prove not to be the globe-trotting missionary that his two immediate predecessors were. His trip to World Youth Day is the only scheduled voyage outside of Italy for the Pontiff this year. However, a more limited travel schedule will likely make the trips that Francis does make have even more impact and be filled with a much deeper meaning. Where he decides to go will tell us much about where the Pope’s heart is.The Holy Father has made quite an impression on the secular press, as we’ve already written in this space. However, one thing that has become apparent is that the non-Catholic media, especially publications and outlets that are not only secular but secularist in their outlook and editorial line, are attempting to fashion the Pope in their own image, in the manner in which they would like him to be. The real Francis may prove to be a disappointment to those operating under the delusion that the Holy Father will be anything other than orthodox in his approach to the faith. By orthodox it should be made clear that we mean that the Pontiff accepts and embraces Church teaching and will do his best to apply it to his life and his governance, and he will lead by example, since we are all called to live in the same way.
It was likely in the vein of attempting to lead by example that the Holy Father recently consecrated the Vatican City State to St. Michael the Archangel, the great warrior against Satan and the forces of darkness. The Holy Father understands that he is leading the Church during a time of great spiritual warfare, and that this warfare is taking place even at the highest levels of the Church.
What example has he set for us in the way he is carrying out his itinerary for World Youth Day? He has included special time in his busy schedule of events to visit a Brazilian favela, what we might call the ghetto or a slum. In these slums of what is nominally the most Catholic nation in the world (Brazil is home to 10% of the world’s Catholics) live the poorest people in a country that is already poor. What is sad for these people is not their poverty, because many of them understand that the heart of Christ is already with them in a special way, but the fact that a government that is supposed to protect them is trying desperately to sweep them under the rug. In advance of the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Rio Olympics, the government of Brazil is trying to sweep away slums like the one the Holy Father will be visiting, a place called Varginha.
The Holy Father has gone to Brazil ostensibly to spread the Good News among the young people gathered there from all over the world to see him. He is sending a message, however, by the very fact that he is choosing to spend so much of his time among the poor and the humble, and he is doing so in a way that does not appear “staged” in any way, but instead seems as though he is saying: “Who else am I supposed to spend time with?” On a hill overlooking the city of Rio de Janeiro is one of the most well-known and photographed statues in the world. It is a statue of Christ the Redeemer, his arms outstretched in love over the place they call cidade maravilhosa, the marvellous city. The Jesuits and the Carmelites came with the Portuguese to Brazil to spread the Catholic faith, and spread it they did, by God’s grace. These two religious orders saved many native people from slavery in a culture where the institution was rife. It was the reality that the Jesuits and the Carmelites spoke up for human dignity when it always seemed to be at a premium that was the seed that spread the faith.
Today, the Jesuit Pope is in Brazil, and he has come in no small part to speak up for human dignity.