Pope Francis Urges Young Brazilians To Stay Hopeful

The world's first Latin American and Jesuit pope toured Rio de Janeiro's slums on Thursday, blasting the world's "culture of selfishness" and telling Brazilians not to be discouraged, even in the face of corruption by officials. His trip comes after widespread protests over inequality in Brazil.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

Pope Francis arrived at Brazil's famed Copacabana Beach late today. Standing on a colorfully-lit stage, he was welcomed by thousands of young Catholics.

FRANCIS I: (Through translator) Looking at this ocean, the beach and all of you, what comes to mind is the moment in which Jesus called out to his first disciples from the shores of Lake Tiberius.

SIEGEL: Pope Francis is known as the slum pope. That's because of his work in the poor areas of his native Argentina. Earlier today he brought his message to one of the most marginalized communities in Brazil.

And NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro was there.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, BYLINE: Varginha is a poor community that was built on top of a city dump. It has little infrastructure, scant government presence, and the power goes out all the time. In fact, Varginha was, until only a few months ago, controlled by the drug gangs. Military police have just recently moved in full-time under a program called Pacification. Written on one of the walls is this morbid invitation: Let's Kill the Police. Residents say the criminals here are out of sight but not gone.

Pope Francis asked to have a visit to this favela put on his schedule and he couldn't have been more warmly received.

(SOUNDBITE OF A CHEERING CROWD)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Pope Francis really is trying to be a man of the people. I'm standing here on the street in Varginha in the driving rain, and people here have been waiting for hours, getting completely soaked waiting for him. And instead of taking a Popemobile, he is actually walking down these rain sodden streets among them.

(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD CHANTING, FRANCISCO)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Twenty-two-year-old Tamires Rozoli said it was a once in a lifetime experience.

TAMIES ROZOLI: (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I'm so happy to see the pope who is God's representative on Earth. I think it's very good he came to this community. People need him. It's a support, she says.

(unintelligible) began his address to the faithful who were standing on a muddy soccer field with a joke.

I: (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: When I first decided to come to Brazil, I wanted to knock on every door and say good morning, he says, ask for a glass of water, drink a coffee but not a shot of cachaca.

The reference to the strong Brazilian spirit made from sugar cane drew laughs from the crowd. But the address quickly grew serious. In his first reference to the social protests that erupted in Brazil over the past months, Pope Francis said the young should not despair.

I: (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You are often disappointed by news that speaks of corruption on the part of people who put their own interests before the common good, he says. To you and all, I repeat: Never yield to discouragement, do not lose trust, do not allow your hope to be extinguished. Realities can change, people can change.

According to the local press, the Pope did not allow any politicians to accompany him on his visit. According to Vatican sources, the pontiff wanted direct contact with the people here who have been forgotten by the government. In keeping with his message of simplicity and help to the poor, Pope Francis continued.

I: (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I want to make an appeal to those who have more resources, to the public authorities and to all people with good will who are committed to social justice, don't get tired of working for a more just world marked by greater solidarity. No one can remain insensitive to the inequalities that persist in this world.

After the address, the field quickly emptied as people sought to get out of the rain. Still, those who listened to the speech said they were touched by Pope Francis's concern for their plight.

Georgina Pimentel was overwhelmed.

GEORGINA PIMENTEL: (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I never expected to see the Pope in my life, she says. I think this pope is very different, she said, tears streaming from her eyes. He hugs people. He's from the people. This pope, she says, is a Brazilian.

Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Rio de Janeiro.

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