Catholic youths converge on Rio to see “slum pope”
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina – Thousands of young Roman Catholics from around the Americas are converging on Rio de Janeiro, taking dayslong bus trips or expensive plane flights that were paid for by baking cookies and holding garage sales, running raffles and bingo tournaments and even begging for coins in public plazas. Some of the poorest traveled from so-called “misery villages” in Argentina’s capital, thanks to donations from the Buenos Aires archdiocese. Their agenda at World Youth Day includes meeting with other disadvantaged youngsters in Manguinhos, a favela Pope Francis plans to visit, and sharing stories about Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the subway-riding Argentine Jesuit they now affectionately call their “slum pope.” Road trips can be fun, but many have been expressing more profound emotions, excited by the changes they see in the church since Francis was elected in March. His first months as pope have already renewed their faith, many say, by showing how church leaders can get closer to their people and relate to their real-world problems with humor and a common touch. “Like anyone else, there have been times when I haven’t had this faith at 100 percent.
Now I have more faith than ever, very high. I have my heart completely with God and no one can take me away from there,” said Valentina Godoy, who traveled from Santiago, Chile, and shared her feelings from Brazil on a video her local church group posted on YouTube.
Francis joked when he first emerged on the balcony over St. Peters Square that the cardinals had chosen a pope “from the end of the world.” But for many Catholics on this side of the Atlantic, he’s not only the first Latin American pope. With his history of community outreach, many younger Catholics are saying that he’s the first pope they can relate to in a more personal way. “We were concerned after Benedict resigned, but when a Latin American pope emerged, so close to young people, it really changed the situation and our numbers grew. A little while ago we thought that there would be 5,000 Chileans and now we see that 9,100 of us are going, more than double what we expected,” said Alonso Molina, the 21-year-old coordinator of a group visiting from Chile’s Vicarate of Youthful Hope.