Pope stresses need to win back Catholic defectors

Pope Francis on Saturday urged his clergy to win back Catholic defectors before joining two million young pilgrims for a beachfront prayer vigil.

  • Published: 27/07/2013 at 02:49 PM
  • Newspaper section: news

Pope Francis (L) speaks during a prayer vigil at Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro on July 27, 2013.

The Argentine pontiff called for a "church able to dialogue with those disciples who, having left Jerusalem behind, are wandering aimlessly, alone, with their own disappointment -- disillusioned by a Christianity now considered barren, fruitless soil."

Reaching out to those who have left the fold was a key goal of the pope's week-long visit to the world's most populous Catholic country, amid Vatican concern about the growing strength of evangelical Protestant churches and spreading secularism.

Francis also exhorted the Catholic church to "seek and serve Christ" in the world's slums, and reminded Brazil's elite to confront social turmoil with "constructive dialogue."

In a speech to prominent Brazilians, the pope raised the specter of social violence in a country rocked last month by massive street protests demanding an end to corruption and a better life.

"Constructive dialogue... (is) essential for facing the present moment," Francis told political, religious and civil society leaders assembled in Rio's Municipal Theater.

"Between selfish indifference and violent protest there is always another possible option: that of dialogue," he said.

Since his installation in March, the first Latin American pope has sought to re-energize Catholics, using his Rio trip to urge young believers to spread the Gospel and "make a mess" in their dioceses.

As night fell, Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said two million pilgrims attending this week's World Youth Day (WYD) turned up on Rio's Copacabana beach for a vigil, marking the third straight night that the charismatic pontiff has managed to draw colossal crowds.

"We are ready to pass the night praying," said James Ramos, a 35-year-old Australian.

"This is the night we have been waiting for," said Danielle Minogue, a 19-year-old US citizen.

Wearing a white overcoast because of the cold, rainy weather, Francis rode in his open-sided popemobile, waving and blessing the faithful lining up along the avenue facing the beach.

Since his arrival here Monday, he has received rock-star treatment, with shrieking pilgrims eager to approach him and kiss his hand, much to the dismay of his security detail.

Youth festival participants appeared fired up by the 76-year-old.

During a nine-kilometer (5.5-mile) march to Copacabana beach, many agreed that the church needed a dose of energy, lamenting that too many have lost interest in an institution hurt by pedophilia and financial scandals.

Some suggested social media could help spread the Gospel while others said young Catholics needed to be more active, join missions and open up about their faith.

"Oh yeah! Shake it up, big time! You have to," said Adrian Antonio Flores, a 31-year-old from the US state of Minnesota who works for a website catering to young Catholics.

"We're alive, we're on fire. When people see others on fire, it's contagious," he said before stopping to pray with some 30 compatriots.

Earlier, the pope used a mass to challenge priests to bring the message of the Gospel to the world's slums as he pressed his drive to revive a struggling Catholic faith.

"It is in the favelas... that we must go to seek and serve Christ," he told thousands of bishops, priests and seminarians from around the world gathered for a mass at Rio's St. Sebastian Cathedral.

"We cannot keep ourselves shut up in parishes, in our communities, when so many people are waiting for the Gospel," said Francis who touts himself as a champion of the poor.

Earlier this week, he visited a Rio shantytown, where he urged residents not to lose hope while slamming inequality and corruption.

To Brazil's ruling class, Francis hammered home that dialogue "is the only way for individuals, families and societies to grow, the only way for the life of peoples to progress."

After the speech, he hugged several Amazon natives with pierced noses, body paint, feather headdress and straw skirts, even donning a feathered headgear and posing for photographs.

The pope's visit culminates Sunday with a mass that is expected to draw three million people.

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Writer: AFP
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