RIO DE JANEIRO – Catholics should reject selfishness and intolerance to help fashion a new world, Pope Francis said in a Sunday sermon that drew 3 million people and ended a weeklong pilgrimage to Brazil in which he emphasized the need to renew the 2,000-year-old church and bring it closer to the people.
Speaking from an elaborate stage on Rio’s famed Copacabana beach, the 76-year-old pontiff told young people from nearly 180 countries, who had come for the church’s biennial World Youth Day, to fearlessly go and spread the word of God.
Follow these words: Serve without fear, Francis said, on his first foreign trip since becoming pope in March. Bringing the Gospel is bringing God’s power to rip out and raze evil and violence, to destroy and demolish the barriers of selfishness, intolerance and hatred to build a new world.
Conveyed in Catholic imagery, it was an appeal for young people energized by the gathering to draw closer to a church that religious analysts say has grown out of touch and lost followers by the millions in recent years, a trend readily apparent in this continent-size country where Catholicism once dominated.
For Ana Paula Santos, 24, who works the register at a store and came from Brazil’s Minas Gerais state to see Francis, it was a lesson in humility that to her demonstrated how the pope is living the teachings of Jesus.
My faith has grown strong now, she said, and I want to embrace this faith even more.
John Thavis, author of The Vatican Diaries, a look at power and politics in the Catholic Church, said Catholics the world over have heard a lot about the pope’s agenda on social issues since he replaced Benedict XVI.
This week, we saw it on display in Brazil, especially in encounters with young inmates, drug addicts, the sick and the poor, Thavis said. He showed by example what it means to be a more open and evangelical church. I think he was also trying to show how the Catholic Church can stem the departure of its own faithful by responding more directly to their spiritual needs.
Thavis said he found it telling that Francis, despite spending seven days in the world’s biggest predominantly Catholic country, never explicitly mentioned abortion, birth control, sexual permissiveness or gay marriage, issues that have divided Catholics and prompted some to sever their ties to the church.