What to expect during the Pope's trip to Brazil

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Jul 23, 2013

Pope Francis has shown himself to be an unpredictable Pontiff, so it is a dangerous business to try to guess which issues will emerge as most important during his visit to Brazil. But without trying to read the Pontiff’s mind, and discern what he will say to the crowds at World Youth Day (WYD), we can at least point to some themes that are likely to be discussed during the papal visit—if not by Pope Francis himself, at least by those who are following his trip.

  • Security. Thank God you aren’t responsible for ensuring the Pope’s personal safety. The Holy Father is delighted when he is surrounded by crowds; his bodyguards are not. The raucous reception that he met on his arrival in Rio left his aides exhausted and nervous; the bomb discovered at the shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida did nothing to relieve their apprehensions. The Vatican’s security officials will not sleep comfortably until the Pope is back in Rome.
  • Brazilian politics. The Pope arrives at a time of serious unrest in Brazil. In the weeks leading up to his arrival, the concerns about his personal security were combined with fears of renewing protests in the cities. Angry demonstrators have been denouncing the government’s priorities for public spending: the huge sums that have been spent to host the World Cup soccer tournament and the Summer Olympic Games. Subsidies for the papal trip might have been added to that list of public expenditures, but the government declined to provide extra funding for WYD. Far more important, Pope Francis has expressed his sympathy for the demonstrators, speaking about the urgent need to provide employment especially for young people. The Pope’s popularity seems to be soaring, at the same time that the government’s public-approval ratings are in free fall. On the night of the Pope’s arrival there was a demonstration outside the presidential palace while the Pontiff was meeting political leaders there. But that demonstration was aimed at the Brazilian politicians, not at the Pope. Will there be demonstrations against the Pope, too? Or will he be perceived as a champion of those calling for political reform?
  • Competition with Protestant groups. In South American generally, and Brazil particularly, the Catholic Church has been losing adherents to Evangelical Protestant movements. Many Catholic prelates in the region have denounced the aggressive approach of the Protestant sects. In Buenos Aires, then-Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio took a different approach. The faithful would not leave the Catholic Church, he reasoned, if Catholics were properly evangelized. So the challenge is not to halt the growth of the Protestant minority, but to stir up the apostolic energy of the Catholic majority.
  • The “hot-button” issues. Reporters for American secular outlets will no doubt focus on their favorite political issues: abortion, same-sex marriage, sexual abuse, and feminism. Will the Pope tackle those topics in Rio? He may. But they are unlikely to be his main focus during his meetings with the rising generation of Catholics in Latin America. The Pope has traveled to Rio to bring a message of hope, the message of the Gospel. If young Catholics are fired with that message, the “hot-button” issues will take care of themselves; if the Church continues to lose the sympathies of young people, no amount of lecturing will be sufficient to hold the line against the rising tide of secularism.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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  • Posted by: koinonia - Jul. 23, 2013 9:48 PM ET USA

    The Church elevates hearts, minds and souls. To those who busy themselves it is difficult to escape the pull of Earth. To be moved a certain disposition of soul is necessary. We are elevated by God' s love. If we do not or cannot appreciate this beautiful cooperation in concert with grace we saccomplish little that really fulfills. The Church matters. She is our difference-maker. To bis requires us to be busy in a way that employs silence and prayer.