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Pope Francis Supports Social Justice Protestors In Brazil

Anne Artley |
July 29, 2013 | 6:38 p.m. PDT

Staff Reporter

 Wikimedia Commons)
Wikimedia Commons)
Brazilian protestors calling for social reforms have found an ally in Pope Francis. In his first international visit to Rio de Janiero since becoming Pope, Francis solidified his presence as the pope of the ordinary people.

He traveled to the country for World Youth Day, an international Catholic event. While there, Francis visited a slum in Rio and a hospital that treats alcohol and drug addicts. He also conducted a service on Rio’s Copacabana beach, which drew a crowd of over one million. 

For the past month, Brazilian protestors have been working to express their dissatisfaction with the political corruption, the misuse of public funds, and the rising cost of bus and metro fare.
At the beginning of July, a Sao Paolo newspaper estimated that protests have taken place about once an hour in as many as 350 Brazilian cities.

The protests began in Sao Paolo, where university students decided to rally against the issue of rising public transportation costs for lower quality service.

Military police responded to the mostly peaceful protesters with violence—attacking them with gas and pepper spray—which sparked more protests throughout Brazil, according to political blog openDemocracy.

While Pope Francis agrees with the reasons behind the demonstrations, he is encouraging protestors to spread their message with “constructive dialogue” rather than violence.

He appealed to a wide range of Brazilian citizens by also encouraged Brazil’s elite government leadership to reach out to the poor. He said that an keeping an open mind and maintaining an ongoing dialogue between different factions and generations is the key to bringing about change.

The pope’s endorsement of a fight for social justice is consistent with his philosophy, according to practicing Catholics at the University of Southern California.  

“He’s always humble and always siding with the poor,” said Isabella Urrea, 21, a rising senior at USC who is involved with the Caruso Catholic Center.

The 76-year-old pope from Argentina has criticized the "cult of money" driving the world and has publicly endorsed liberation theology, a doctrine that places special emphasis on social justice.

According to this theology, helping the poor and fighting oppression—rather than individual sin—should be the primary aims of Christianity. This movement is especially popular in his native Latin America.

“The Catholic Church has had a negative reputation for a long time: hypocritical, institutional and the sex abuse scandals,” Urrea said. “Pope Francis is definitely changing the image of the church and bringing it back to its roots. Jesus was a carpenter, after all.”

SEE ALSO | Pope Francis Says He Will Not Judge Gay Priests

In the same vein as his stated beliefs, Pope Francis has chosen not to live in the papal apartments, but rather outside the Vatican, where he eats with lower-ranking priests and visitors. He has also expressed his desire to reform the Vatican bank, by making its proceedings more "honest and transparent." He also refused to use the bulletproof popemobile in Brazil so he could interact with people more easily.

The pope's democratic platform has granted him popularity, along with his speeches, which are simple in style and easy to understand. In this sense, the public may view him as more accessible than his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI.

Critics have accused Pope Benedict for stuffiness, while Pope Francis enjoys a reputation as a breath of fresh air to a dying institution. 

“[Benedict] was an academic and an intellectual,” said Sam Zhai, 22, a rising senior at USC who is involved with the school’s Catholic Center. “He was hard to understand. But for me, each pope has a certain stress depending on the gifts God has given him.”

But while Pope Francis may appear more liberal than his predecessor, scholars claim that he does not advocate a broader transformation of the Catholic Church that could include allowing women to take a more active role in the clergy or allowing priests to marry. 

Reach Staff Reporter Anne Artley here.



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