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Pope Draws Crowd For Ceremony On Home Continent


Happy Friday. It is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm David Greene.

He is being called a rebel and a revolutionary. We're talking about Pope Francis. He's making a splash in his first international outing as head of the Catholic Church. The pope is in Rio de Janeiro, celebrating World Youth Day.

NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro is there.


LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, BYLINE: He certainly has the common touch. Driving down Copacabana Beach last night, past the cheering hundreds of thousands of faithful, the pope popped off his white skull cap and handed it to a pilgrim. In a shanty town, he walked among the residents, even though it was pouring rain, and gave an address in a muddy field.

Pope Francis is making it clear in words, as well as deeds, that his papacy is about social justice. Last night in Rio, he called on the young to adhere to their faith.

POPE FRANCIS: (Through translator) Faith is revolutionary. And I ask you today: Are you ready today to get with our revolution of faith?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And that wasn't an idle turn of phrase. In a private conversation with young Argentines, whom he asked to meet with, the AP reported him as saying: What is it that I expect as a consequence of World Youth Day? I want a mess. We knew that in Rio, there would be great disorder, but I want trouble in the dioceses. I want to see the church get closer to the people. I want to get rid of clericalism, the mundane, this closing ourselves off within ourselves, in our parishes, schools and structures.

It's a big departure from the message of his two predecessors, Benedict XVI and John Paul II.

Paulo Fernando Carneiro de Andrade is a dean of the theology of the Catholic University of Rio. He says Pope Francis's religious ideology was formed during the days of liberation theology in Latin America, which stresses solidarity with the poor. He earned the nickname the Slum Pope, working in the shanty towns of his native Argentina. But de Andrade says as important as what he is saying is what he is not saying.

PAULO FERNANDO CARNEIRO DE ANDRADE: (Through translator) He has been focusing on social justice issues and ethical issues, and has been stressing less things like sexuality as the last two popes did. And he's been getting resistance on that from the conservative movement within the church.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Contraception, abortion, pre-marital sex have all been getting very little space in his speeches.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: On the streets of Rio, the faithful seemed energized by this new pope with his different message.

Ricardo Delardo is 19 and from Ecuador.

RICARDO DELARDO: (Through translator) He says he is just one more Catholic. He doesn't say he is superior to anyone. And I think that's so important. People shouldn't think they are better than anyone else because they have political office or wealth, or even that they are the pope. His humility is an example to us all.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: A young group of Catholics from Texas also gave their first impressions. Hannah Krebl is 16.

HANNAH KREBL: I definitely like him a lot. He's different from Pope Benedict, but different in a good way. I love him. I think he answers questions that we have.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Sam Beggans is 18.

SAM BEGGANS: I love to hear how much he loves the people. He's such an amazing person, and I'm overwhelmed by that, his love for the people. And that's really what we need in a pope. He is just such an example of God's love and mercy. It's amazing.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Many Catholics hope this pope will change the fortunes of the world's biggest Christian community, which has seen declining attendance and people turning to other sects in recent years. And even skeptics say this pope seems exciting.

MARINALVA SILVA DA SILVA: (Foreign language spoken)


GARCIA-NAVARRO: In the shanty town the pope visited yesterday, Marinalva Silva da Silva says she was a Catholic, but then became an evangelical Christian. She says don't tell my pastor, but I really like this pope.

Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Rio de Janeiro. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.