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Pope Francis In Brazil

Is this the pope of the poor? Can he help mend Brazil’s ragged edges?

Pope Francis rides in his popemobile in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Monday July 22, 2013. (AP Photo/Victor R. Caivano)

Pope Francis rides in his popemobile in Rio de Janeiro on Monday. (Victor R. Caivano/AP)

They mobbed Pope Francis in Rio this week, as the first Latin American pope in history came to Brazil.

But the fact is the Catholic Church has been losing ground in Brazil for decades. Brazilians were 99 percent Catholic. But the latest number is 57 percent.

Francis comes as “the pope of the poor,” and his timing is good with that. Huge protests in Brazil in the last month over corruption and inequality, in spite of famous years of boom.

Can the pope pull it all together? Can Brazil?

This hour, On Point: The “pope of the poor,” a “must-win” country for Catholics and time of challenge for Brazil.

– Tom Ashbrook


Philip Pullella, covers Italy and the Vatican for Reuters. (@PhilipPullella)

Andrew Chesnut, chair of Catholic studies at Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of World Studies and author of “Competitive Spirits: Latin America’s New Religious Economy” and “Born Again in Brazil: The Pentecostal Boom and the Pathogens of Poverty.” (@AndrewChestnut1)

Paulo Sotero, director of the Brazil Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Adjunct lecturer on Brazil in the global arena at George Washington University’s Elliot School of International Affairs and former Washington correspondent for O Estado de S.Paulo.

From Tom’s Reading List

KCUR: Brazil’s Evangelicals A Growing Force In Prayer, Politics: “Pope Francis arrives Monday evening in Rio de Janeiro for a weeklong visit celebrating World Youth Day. Hundreds of thousands of Catholics have made the pilgrimage to see the Argentine-born pontiff, and he is expected to receive a rapturous welcome. Still, Pope Francis’s visit comes at a delicate time for the church in Brazil. Catholicism — the nation’s main religion — is facing a huge challenge from evangelicals.”

The Washington Post: Pope Francis Tries To Bolster Church In Brazil: “With 200 million people, the vast majority of whom profess some faith, Brazil is a huge battleground for souls. It has one in 10 of all the world’s Catholics, making it enormously important to the Vatican. But for years now, Catholicism has been on the losing end of a pitched struggle with increasingly influential evangelical churches.”

The Guardian: Thousands On Streets In Brazil Protests: “Violence broke out in central Rio de Janeiro at rush hour following a march by trade unionists estimated at up to 20,000 people. The protest was part of a union-organised national day of action in which demonstrations were held and roads blocked in all 27 Brazilian states.”

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  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Matt-MC/69207889 Matt MC

    The Archdiocese of Milwaukee went bankrupt, so they were forced to release their correspondences between church leadership and child molesting priests. Instead of firing them, they passed them around from church to church, or if they were really bad, they made them retire with an extra $500 stipend and free health insurance. I’m not fond of the Catholic church. I think it is nearly as corrupt as the American government, but I like this new Pope. He seems to know right from wrong, a big first step for Catholicism in my mind. 

    • Shag_Wevera

      Well, at least you briefly addressed today’s topic in the last sentence of your post.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Matt-MC/69207889 Matt MC

        I would say a recent revelation about the behavior of Catholic priests in the context of a discussion of a new Pope who is changing attitudes toward the Catholic church would be quite relative. You should really read those letters, as they reveal the inner workings of the church bureaucracy http://www.jsonline.com/features/religion/archdiocese-of-milwaukee-releases-depositions-offender-priest-files-in-sex-abuse-cases-213451151.html#!/name_asc_1/

        • Shag_Wevera

          Corrupt human bureaucracy shouldn’t impune an entire faith.  I think too many people try to use this evil for that duplicitous purpose.

          • http://www.facebook.com/people/Matt-MC/69207889 Matt MC

            Waiting in line at the DMV because they’ve made me sign too many papers is one thing. We’re talking about the systematic cover up of KNOWN child molesters. The church leaders are at fault, and I’m glad they’re changing their leadership. 

          • Shag_Wevera

            I agree.

  • Wahoo_wa

    The Church is no single person but a community.  Focusing on community might be a better way of affecting change than relying on one person.

  • Ed75

    There are en estimated 2.5 million people participating in World Youth Day events this week, this is the 12th? World Youth Day, started by Pope John Paul II, his relic has been brought to WYD.

    Evangelicals are our brothers in the faith, we’re not so worried about them as about the secularization of society in general and the attacks on the Church around the world.

    If anyone wants to know what Catholics really believe, and not the distorted ideas presented by the media (this show excepted), please read or listen to Pope Francis’ homilies during WYD.

    Having seen Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict, and now Pope Francis at WYDs, I’m struck by how talented these men are, and at the same time how distinct they are in personality and emphases.

    “Where the bishop is, there is the Church.”

    • margbi

      I don’t think that the church is where the bishop is. I always thought the admonition “where 2 or 3 are gathered in my name I am there” was the default position. The people are the church.

      • Ed75

        This is kind of a ‘both and’ situation. Jesus said ‘where two or three are gathered, there am I, in their midst’, but He didn’t say ‘There is my Church’. He said to Peter ‘You are rock, and on this rock I will build my Church’. There are levels of community.

    • J__o__h__n

      Are you disappointed that the Pope is spending more time promoting economic issues instead of ranting against gays and abortion?

      • Ed75

        Not at all, it’s all of one piece.

  • Shag_Wevera

    A man in his position, with his influence, who is willing to make poverty and inequity a focal point can only be a good thing.

  • Shag_Wevera

    Maybe for today and future shows, the anti-catholic and anti-religious folks could nominate one articulate poster to rattle off the the usual list of gripes and insults.  It would be economical in that those in agreement could easily find it, and those who are insulted could easily ignore it. 

  • Ed75

    The pope is very Marian, I think he will declare Mary co-Mediatrix and co-Redemptrix, I hope so.

    • Wahoo_wa

      Co-mediarix and co-redemptrix with whom exactly?  Please don’t say Jesus as that would be completely un orthodox.  There is also no scriptural basis for that heresy.

  • Duras

    I love this guy.  He is so refreshing.  And for the first time in my life, I hope the Pope has influence in the world. 

  • gemli

    The pope seems like a nice guy, and had said things that have calmed the faithful and renewed a sense of optimism regarding the Catholic Church.  But it’s a mistake to imagine that the underlying problems of the Church are going to change any time soon.  The fundamental problems remain.  There is a divisive nature to religion that pits Us against Them, that disparages gays and lesbians, that requires celibacy and its attendant sexual issues among its priests, that demeans and marginalizes women, and that relies on superstition and myth as the foundation of credulous belief.  We’re too far into the 21st century to hold these attitudes.  The laudable ideas behind religion are overwhelmed by its primitive tribal origins.  A new spokesman is not going to change that.

  • northeaster17
  • Ed75

    Liberation theology is not the way to help the poor, it was rejected because it is based on Marxist social constructs. Liberation theology, based on politics, failed, and was rightly  denounced.

    • 65noname

      It wasn’t  “rejected because it is based on Marxist social constructs.”  Nor did “Liberation theology, based on politics, fail[ ], and [it] was[n't] rightly denounced.”

      Like most south americansocial movements designed to equalize the distribution wealth towards those who actually produce it, it was smashed by the church, using its miltary thug/allies in the local military dicatatorships and the thuggary of the US’s military alongside the economic power of the US.

  • Ed75

    The Church is not about numbers: the task of the Church is to declare and to propose the Church, and Christ. They propose, they don’t impose.

    • J__o__h__n

      If they don’t impose, why do they impose their views on abortion and gay marriage on people who aren’t Catholic? 

      • Ed75

        The Church preaches against things like racism and sexism and other injustices, inequality, theft, also poverty. These are natural law issues, they would be wrong even if the Church said nothing about them, they are in people’s consciences. The Church doesn’t impose Church law on people.

  • Ed75

    The Catholic Charismatic renewal is perfectly legitimate, and is a charism within the Church.

    (Pentecostalism can’t be reduced to the prosperity gospel, which is a specific idea.)

  • MarkVII88

     If, as the caller at 1130 suggested, the Catholic Church is obsolete in Brazil, what does that make the Church in the USA?

  • perihelion22

    Holy Ke-rist. What a bunch of child molesters, witch hunters fraudulent mystics and medieval demon-hocus-pocus. So the church is losing members in Brazil? More power to them. Hail secularism. When the poor wake up they will toss this crap.

    • Shag_Wevera

      Ignorant, insensitive, banal, juvenile, insulting etc etc.

  • John

    The Catholic Church is still very much a part of most Brazilians lives. I live in São Paulo and right down the street from me there are two mega churches. They are all over the place. What I see is the youth turning to more secular or non-catholic spirituality. However, even more secular Brazilians love this pope I think, because he is from South America and because he seems to represent/pay attention to the poor. 

    Living in São Paulo I see poverty all around me next to some of the richest most extravagant. They are side by side and a fact of life for many Brazilians. 

    I am North American by the way living in Brazil for 3 years.

    • John

      Also just to add, the protests have to do with people’s dissatisfaction with the brazilian government’s ability to provide basic services like public transport, security and healthcare while taxes remain ridiculously high and there is rampant corruption among public officials. In my business we work with some public officials and when we do we always have to add about 50% to our proposed budget so the public officials can have their “share”. 

      I am here because this country has tremendous potential. Some of the most creative people I have ever met, I met during my three years here and while things are still tough here, according to many Brazilian they are much better than they were 10-15 years ago.

      I for one believe the future is bright for Brazil.

  • Ed75

    The Church has always had a preferential option for the poor. But the Gospel doesn’t promise well-being in this world. The Church criticizes strict capitalism, the purpose of economics is people.

  • Fran B. Reed, S.A.G.

    From Fran Reed,MPH Hi. I just spoke on-air about my experience
    as a teacher in South Amer. with students who had 20 siblings.
    Another speaker said Catholics use family plan. I say they do
    when they come to live in US, but often are afraid to in their
    own countries, fearing loss of eternal life. That’s just one of
    reasons why immigration helps the world and the
    US . Immigration Reform  will help all of us who live in US. That’s
    why I want to come on the show and talk of my undocumented
    friends in my book, We Are Not the Enemy, We Come Only With
    Our Dreams.  I hope you invite me, Tom.  ML888888@aol.com
    RNC wants to just invite college graduates to come. What about
    those gardeners, golf course workers, painters, baby-sitters who
    have given years of their lives working for us?  They should be
    first in line, and they have no way at all to get documents
    without a new law. Thanks, Fran

  • 65noname

    Typical right of center, one-sided commentary for this program.  First, contrary to the mainstream spin echoed here, liberation theology wasn’t rejected by the vast numbers of poor people in south america.  It was smashed by the church, using the military thugs of its local military junta allies who, of course, are armed and trained by the US. Not to mention throwing the weight of the west’s economic power behind these military thug governments and the catholic church.

    Second, if, in fact, “faith healing” is responsible for people adhereing to non-catholic  churches, then it would seem that the catholic church simply aping those practices demonstrates that the (so-called) church is merely jumping on the bandwagon rather than being the prophet of the word of god. 

    But, more importantly, any real and honest church would not be simply imitating policies because those policies have some appeal to people.  For instance, is it going to start dressing nuns up as the kardashians  or madona (the singer not the invisible friend of christian mythology) next?  The job of a real church would be to be out there telling people that they need to go to REAL medical providers and use science based medicene rather that superstion to deal with real medical problems.  And that church would be demanding that the government provide proper medical care for its citizens.

  • Adrian_from_RI

    So, Pope Francis wants to be the Pope of the poor. He will get his wish in spades if he can force people to live up to the teachings of the church; as people were forced to do in that period of Western Civilization known as the Dark Ages.  In the Dark Ages and beyond — in Thomas Hobbes’ (1588-1679) words — the life of man was solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short. Am I to believe that Pope Francis is dreaming of bringing back these “good old days?”
    In July 1968 his Holiness Paul VI issued his Encyclical Letter “Humanae Vitae.” A few month later there was a Ford Hall Forum lecture titled: “Of Living Death.” In that lecture the Pope’s Humanae Vitae was analyzed line by line and the Encyclical’s anti life meaning was exposed for all to understand. The intellectual curious might want to listen to that lecture and Q&A at:
    Tom, you should listen to this talk too.

  • truegangsteroflove

    I grew up a “member” of the Catholic church (not Church), even graduating from a Catholic college. By that time I had had enough, and looked East, influenced by Thomas Merton and the Beatles.

    Now I look at the church with a mixture of bemusement and wonder, a human institution that has survived for almost two centuries by means of authoritarianism, group identity, threat of eternal damnation, and elaborate magical thinking. Recently we learned new permutations of magical thinking, having to do with the color of the pope’s slippers to little red scapulars and other whatnot.

    What should be most instructive about all this hoopla about the pope’s visit is what it says about the human condition. So far, it seems, people need ritual, god-men, royalty, magical thinking, and group identity, especially when combined with paranoia about “outsiders.”

    It also should be instructive that established news media play-up the importance of the papacy, now rivaled only by coverage of the birth of a new member of British “royalty.” In editorial offices of corporate media it has been determined that traditional religious “authority” and royalty are to be promoted as the most important “news.”

    This may not be such a bad thing, at least in a relative sense. More books and movies are appearing that cover heretofore unknown craziness of the Nazis of Hitler’s Germany. They were thieves, completely callous in regard to EVERYONE, including each other, totally paranoid, heavily ritualistic, and, craziest of all, reverential towards Der Führer.

    This could happen anywhere. Millions of “Americans” revere crackpots of various kinds, especially of the “right-wing” variety: Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Wayne LaPierre, Michele Bachmann, Sarah Palin, Rick Santorum, and numerous other ad-nauseam demagogues. Multitudes rally around contrived issues like abortion, guns, taxes, sex and not-so-disguised racial perceptions. The teeming masses could easily rally around a charismatic upstart who captures the public’s prejudices and imagination.

    We live in a strange time, with economic decline, global climate change, resource depletion and exploding population (in more ways than one). The established order needs a traditional leader to keep the masses in line. Pretenders are storming the gates of the citadel. Thankfully, so far they are pretty repulsive people. Someone attractive is bound to show up eventually. Until then, the pope will do, for the established order at least.

    • http://www.facebook.com/futo.buddy Futo Buddy

      “a charismatic upstart who captures the public’s prejudices and imagination” that describes this guy pretty well

    • brettearle

      There is so much in your comments to agree with.

      They echo much of what I decry–and my fear for the Future.

      The only thing that I would underscore, however, is that Media services report the goings-on of the Pope and the Royal family because of general popularity.

      If such reverence, by acolytes, is a narcotic or a diversion or a leisure- time flight from Reality, this Phenom is short-lived–even if some people’s Faith have been bolstered or renewed through admiration or worship.

      The inexorable movement, unfortunately, towards increased unrest–as well as any general instability that will be reaching critical mass–will continue.

      There seems to be so much vulnerability, bandied about, that I can’t agree with your belief that “someone attractive” will show up.

      It may take quite a while, but….

      ….”that someone attractive” might turn out to be the direct heir to the George Lincoln Rockwell Party or the Lyndon LaRouche movement–the latter of which, you left off your List.

      Yes, it can happen here….

  • Gemma L Rivera

    I think nowhere was it mentioned that the Pope is in Brazil because of its biennial World Youth Festival which was already planned more than 2 yrs ago under the previous Pope.  This is not a strictly Brazil or even Latin American outing by Pope Francis but a global Church event.  It is just a ‘bonus’ that he has an opportunity to address the issues presented above (decline in membership, etc).
    To say that the Church is obsolete because of its resistance to the culture of death (abortion, non-traditional marriage, etc) is just anti-Catholic rhetoric because the Pentecostal churches are even more aggressive against those secular afflictions.  Wonder nobody mentioned the obvious.

    • J__o__h__n

      How is non-traditional marriage a culture of death? 

      • MrBigStuff

        “Culture of Death” is the term used by Catholics (primarily the charismatic youth movement) to denote what they perceive as the increasingly secular-humanist culture of the west challenging and encroaching on traditional conservative Catholic beliefs. Although gay marriage isn’t in itself “deadly” they perceive that it’s effects will put this country in mortal moral danger. 

      • Gemma L Rivera

        Surely, you know the answer to that.  When a state institutionalizes partnerships which do not result in the creation of life, it eventually becomes a vehicle  for a huge chasm between genders leading to a demographic crash.  Do not for a moment think that things will be alright with humanity.

        • brettearle

          You speak as if homosexuality is going to be practiced by all of Humanity.

          If it were–or if it were simply in the United States, practiced by all–then the Demographics might, eventually, be changed.

          But your comments are simply Fundamentalist in nature; they border on ideological paranoia–akin to the comments Reverend Falwell made about how our country was vulnerable to attack on 9/11, because of America’s rampant immorality.

          It is shameful that people like you think this way.

          It’s an absolute gift to the rest of us, that your voice wrestles with itself, within a tiny, petty minority.

        • J__o__h__n

          Humanity doesn’t appear to have a population shortage.  Death is the end of life not its nonexistence.  A rock isn’t alive but is isn’t dead.   

        • Ray in VT

          How do partnerships “which do not result in the creation of life” eventually become “a vehicle for a huge chasm between genders”?  My two lesbian friends’ marriage, and their daughter, doesn’t harm my marriage or any other relationship.

  • Ed75

    Agreeing with the below, Pope Francis is not the pope of the poor only, but the pope of the whole world. Who is the pope? He is the vicar of Christ, the person through whom Jesus Christ governs his Church from Heaven.

    The pope, attentive to the will of God, is responsible for governing the Church, for handing on and protecting Church doctrine, for the administration of the Sacraments throughout the world, and for encouraging all in the faith. And for working for justice in the world, especially the relief of the poor. He is given a special charism to be able to carry out these responsibilities.

    What he brings is concern for the poor, yes, but the pope bring Christ to mankind, and brings mankind to Christ. That is what he is doing.

    • brettearle

      How do you know he actually does that?

      Why isn’t it simply symbolic and not actual?

      • Ed75

        If it’s not actual, it’s meaningless. It’s not simply symbolic because it isn’t simply symbolic (a heresy). Jesus said to Peter ‘He who hears you, hears me.’

        And, of course, it’s not primarily the pope who brings people to God, he cooperates as God draws people to himself.

  • Isernia

    I missed most of this program, but heard briefly a reference made to “prosperity Christianity” as an anti-dote to Liberation Theology.
    I know what the latter is, but not the former.  Explanation anyone?

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