Jubilation, Protest Greet Pope Francis In Brazil

Pope Francis arrived in Rio de Janeiro on Monday and was greeted by adoring masses and protesters alike. It is his first foreign trip since becoming pope.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

We go now to Brazil where Pope Francis is visiting. He arrived in Rio de Janeiro yesterday and was greeted by ecstatic crowds that swarmed around the car he was riding in. Standing next to Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff, he made some brief remarks.

POPE FRANCIS: (Foreign language spoken)

BLOCK: He said: Let me knock gently at this door. I ask permission to come in and spend this week with you. I have neither silver nor gold, but I bring the most precious thing given to me, the love of Jesus Christ.

We go now to NPR's Brazil correspondent Lourdes Garcia-Navarro who's covering the pope's visit. And, Lulu, talk a bit more about this ecstatic reception we mentioned that greeted Pope Francis.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, BYLINE: His car was actually mobbed by the faithful. It was a real security nightmare. His bodyguards were left trying to push back the crowds. And despite the fact that Brazil has been saying there were thousands of policemen and military to protect the pope, they were not in evidence yesterday, and it's been a bit of a scandal.

But, you know, Pope Francis was pretty chill throughout the whole thing. You had pilgrims sobbing and people flashing pictures of him and pressing up against his car, and he was waving and smiling.

BLOCK: So jubilation, but also, there have been protests greeting him.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: There have been protests. One protest, certainly, against the cost of his visit, some $60 million by some estimates. But there were also protests aimed specifically at the church, for example, in support of gay marriage. And I think that's important because many people who criticize the church these days, do so because they say the church isn't living in modern times.

Many people in this region now cohabit. They don't get married. If they get married, they get divorced. They use contraception, and they support gay marriage. And these are all issues where the church has lagged behind popular opinion, and so people are out protesting that as well.

BLOCK: You know, Pope Francis is visiting Brazil for World Youth Day. It's a huge gathering for young Catholics. Tell us more about what else the pope has on his agenda there.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: He'll be giving two mega Masses, and they will be mega. Over a million people at each Mass are expected. He'll be meeting with fellow Argentineans - that's something that he asked to do - those who've traveled from this home country, and he'll also be going to a shantytown. And that is really one of the highlights of his visit. It's getting a lot of attention. This is a shantytown that isn't necessarily pacified fully or safe, and so it's being seen as evidence of his devotion to the poor.

BLOCK: And it's interesting, Lulu, because Brazil has been wracked by protests specifically about social justice, economic inequality, things like that.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Exactly. We are waiting to see if he will address those protests in a specific way. But certainly, in what he's chosen to do and in the manner that he's choosing to do things, you know, he's traveling around in an open top Jeep, he's been carrying his own suitcase around, he is showing that he really is a man of the people.

BLOCK: You've been reporting, Lulu, on the declining numbers of Catholics in Brazil. Is the thinking there that the pope can really re-energize the church do something to boost those numbers?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, I think that's the hope. Certainly, he is a very popular pope not only because he is from this region but also because of the energy that he is bringing to the papacy. You know, what's different about Latin America is that unlike, say, Europe where people are just generally less religious, people here are still going to church, just not the Catholic Church. They're turning to evangelical churches, and the trend is really evident in the young, according to recent statistics.

Certainly, evangelical churches have been really aggressive in marketing themselves to the urban poor, and they use really innovative ways to get their message across. They have drive-through prayer centers, for example, they have political parties, TV stations, you name it. So it really is a challenge for this papacy and the Catholic Church as a whole to try and stem the tide.

BLOCK: That's NPR Lourdes Garcia-Navarro in Brazil. Lourdes, thanks so much.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You're welcome.

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