2M faithful attend Pope Francis' last event in Brazil
RIO DE JANEIRO — Pope Francis drew a reported 3 million flag-waving, rosary-toting faithful to Rio's Copacabana beach on Saturday for the final evening of World Youth Day.
He spoke the language of Brazil's soccer-mad youth, telling them that being a good Catholic is like training to play soccer. Only he added a seemingly blasphemous twist, telling them Jesus offers them “something more than the World Cup.”
In the land of Pele that will host the World Cup in 2014, the joke might have gone over poorly coming from a pope from Argentina, Brazil's nemesis on the pitch.
But the crowd on Copacabana beach for the World Youth Day vigil cheered with delight.
“I'm trembling,” gushed Fiorella Dias, a 16-year-old Brazilian who jumped for joy.
The vigil capped a busy day for the pope in which he drove home a message he has emphasized throughout the week in speeches, homilies and off-the-cuff remarks: the need for Catholics, lay and religious, to shake up the status quo, get out of their stuffy sacristies and reach the faithful on the margins of society or risk losing them to rival churches.
In the longest and most important speech of his four-month pontificate, Francis took a direct swipe at the “intellectual” message of the church that characterized the pontificate of his predecessor, Benedict XVI. Speaking to Brazil's bishops, he said ordinary Catholics simply don't understand such lofty ideas and need to hear the simpler message of love, forgiveness and mercy that is at the core of the Roman Catholic faith.
“At times, we lose people because they don't understand what we are saying because we have forgotten the language of simplicity and import an intellectualism foreign to our people,” he said. “Without the grammar of simplicity, the church loses the very conditions which make it possible to fish for God in the deep waters of his mystery.”
Francis asked bishops to reflect on why hundreds of thousands of Catholics have left the church for Protestant and Pentecostal congregations that have grown exponentially in recent decades, particularly in Brazil's slums.