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Pope Francis becomes apostle of the slums

July 31, 2013 · 


By John L. Allen Jr. (NCR Online via CNUA)

There’s a Brazilian saying that in the country’s favelas, the sprawling slums that form rings of misery around glittering urban cores, the only things that really work are the gangs and the Pentecostals.

Among other things, it’s an indictment of the Catholic church, in tandem with the government and other social institutions, for having abandoned the favelas while others saw an opportunity and swooped in.
In many ways it’s unfair, since legions of Catholics actually do heroic work among the poor in Brazil and around the world. But sometimes perception is reality, and on day four of Pope Francis’ trip to Brazil, those perceptions may have begun to change.
On Thursday (25th July), in a notorious favela of Rio called Varginha, in a small community known as Manguinhos, the Catholic church was unmistakably visible. The pope came to the slum to say, “The church is with you.”
Government statistics say that roughly 11 million Brazilians live in favelas such as the one Francis visited, representing 6 percent of the national population and the very poorest of the poor. On Thursday, the pope held up these people like a mirror to the national conscience. “The measure of the greatness of a society is found in the way it treats those most in need, those who have nothing apart from their poverty,” he said.
In his native Argentina, Francis is already known as the “pope of the villas,” the Argentine equivalent of the Brazilian favelas. Both substantively and symbolically, Francis on Thursday made himself the apostle of slum-dwellers everywhere. “No one can remain insensitive to the inequalities that persist in the world,” the pope said in what was by far the most pointedly political and social speech of the Brazil trip so far. “The Brazilian people, particularly the humblest among you, can offer the world a valuable lesson in solidarity, a word that is too often forgotten or silenced because it is uncomfortable,” Francis said.
“I would like to make an appeal to those in possession of greater resources, to public authorities and to all people of good will who are working for social justice: never tire of working for a more just world, marked by greater solidarity.” In context, the pope’s speech is likely to be heard as an indirect blessing of the massive protest movement that erupted in Brazil in June, when millions took to the streets to demonstrate against lavish public expenditures on the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics while basic services such as education, health care, transportation and anti-poverty efforts languish.


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