Rio De Janeiro • Pope Francis took his message to shake up the Catholic Church to bishops from around the world on Saturday, challenging them to get out of their churches and go to the farthest margins of society to find the faithful and preach. In a separate appearance, he donned a feathered headdress as he embraced members of Brazil’s indigenous tribes and was swarmed by little ballerinas eager for a kiss on the head.
During a Mass with 1,000 bishops in Rio’s beehive-like modern cathedral, Francis echoed the message he has delivered to pilgrims at World Youth Day all week: A radical call to renew the dusty church, which has seen its numbers dwindle in Europe thanks to general apathy and in Latin America in the face of competition from charismatic evangelical congregations.
“We cannot keep ourselves shut up in parishes, in our communities when so many people are waiting for the Gospel!” Francis said in his homily. “It’s not enough simply to open the door in welcome, but we must go out through that door to seek and meet the people.”
It was a slightly more diplomatic expression of the direct, off-the-cuff exhortation he delivered to young Argentine pilgrims on Thursday. In those remarks, he urged the youngsters to make a “mess” in their dioceses and shake things up, even at the expense of confrontation with their bishops and priests.
Francis himself is imposing a shake-up in the Vatican’s staid and dysfunctional bureaucracy, setting in motion a reform plan and investigations into misdeeds at the scandal-plagued Vatican bank and other administrative offices.
Francis’ target audience is the poor and the marginalized — the people that history’s first pope from Latin America has highlighted on this first trip of his pontificate. He has visited one of Rio’s most violent slum areas, met with juvenile offenders and drug addicts and welcomed in a place of honor 35 trash recyclers from his native Argentina.
“Let us courageously look to pastoral needs, beginning with the outskirts, with those who are farthest away, with those who do not usually go to church,” he said Saturday. “They too are invited to the table of the Lord.”
He carried that message to a meeting with Brazil’s political, economic and intellectual elite, urging them to look out for the poorest and use their leadership positions to work for the common good. He also called for greater dialogue between generations, religions and peoples.
“Between selfish indifference and violent protest there is always another possible option: that of dialogue,” he said in a reference to the protests that have wracked Brazil in recent weeks. “A country grows when constructive dialogue occurs between its many rich cultural components: popular culture, university culture, youth culture, artistic and technological culture, economic culture, family culture and media culture.” He added that religion plays a critical and unifying role.
He delivered the remarks at Rio’s grand municipal theater, where he was welcomed with a standing ovation and shouts of “Francisco” and “Viva o Papa!” (Long live the pope).
On a few occasions, he looked up at the gilded theater boxes almost in awe from the stage and seemed charmed when a few dozen young students of the theater’s ballet school, all with their hair in buns, sat down around him. At the end of the event, the little ballerinas all swarmed around Francis for a hug and a kiss.
Also receiving papal embraces were a handful of Brazilian Indians, dressed in their traditional, bare-bellied garb who lined up to kiss his ring. One man gave Francis a feathered headdress, which he gamely put on for a few moments.
Claudina Rosa, a 32-year-old secretary from Minas Gerais state who waited outside the theater in a downpour to catch a glimpse of the pope, applauded his call for dialogue.
“We don’t have any way of accessing our leaders. They don’t listen to us at all, so it’s excellent that the pope call for dialogue in this way,” she said.
Later Saturday, Francis lunches with the region’s bishops and then presides over an evening vigil service on Copacabana beach that is expected to draw more than 1 million young people.
He returns to Rome on Sunday after the final Mass.
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