Rebel Pope Urges Catholics To Shake Up Dioceses

Jul 26, 2013

A supporter of Pope Francis holds balloons on the streets of Rio de Janeiro.
Credit George Martell / Pilot New Media Creative Commons

Pope Francis is urging young Catholics to shake up the church and make a "mess" in their dioceses by going out into the streets to spread the faith.

It's a message he put into practice by visiting one of Rio's most violent slums and opening the church's World Youth Day on a rain-soaked Copacabana Beach Thursday.

“1970s surveys suggested that 90 percent of Brazilians identified with being Catholic, and now it's just shy of 60 percent,” says Suzette Grillot, the Dean of the University of Oklahoma’s College of International Studies. “You've seen declining numbers. The pope wants to try to boost those numbers.”

Dubbed the "slum pope" for his work with the poor, Francis received a rapturous welcome in a northern Rio shantytown so violent it's known as the Gaza Strip. The 76-year-old Argentine seemed entirely at home, wading into cheering crowds, kissing people young and old and telling them the Catholic Church is on their side.

In a muddy soccer field where a crowd of thousands braved a cold rain to welcome him, Francis said, "No one can remain insensitive to the inequalities that persist in the world."

Grillot says even with the warm reception, the response from Brazilians hasn’t been entirely positive.

“There were protests that were outside of his welcoming ceremony focusing on government corruption and really even the cost of this visit,” Grillot says. “$50 million it's costing Brazilians to host the pope.”