Pope's Message Resonates With Faithful In Brazil

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More than 3 million people came to Rio's famed Copacabana beach for the final Mass of Pope Francis' trip to Brazil.


Bigger than the Rolling Stones - that's what they are saying in Rio de Janeiro about Pope Francis. Over the weekend he wrapped up his visit to Brazil, where he was celebrating World Youth Day. Millions of people came out to celebrate the final Mass on Rio's famed Copacabana Beach.

NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro was there.


LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, BYLINE: Next to the sea on Copacabana's beach there was a sea of three million faithful for Pope Francis's last Mass. Pope Francis was elected with a mandate to reinvigorate a church that's been rocked by scandals and hemorrhaging members. His warm reception can't only be attributed to the fact that he's the first Latin American pope on his home turf.

His message of social justice, evangelization and restoring faith resonated, as did his common touch. He donned an Indian headdress, made jokes about the local firewater, called cachaca, and kissed innumerable babies. He also didn't shy away from politics, giving his support to the protests that are taking place here in Brazil.

Tatiely Perriera is 15.

TATIELY PERRIERA: (Speaking foreign language)

LOURDES GARCIA NAVARRO, BYLINE: The other pope really didn't have a connection with the young like this pope, she says. He gives a lot of faith and hope to everyone. Even the faithful from Iraq came to pray with the new pope, their wish to have blessings and help for Iraq's beleaguered Christian community. Fadel Rafad is 29 and from Baghdad.

FADEL RAFAD: I'm very, very happy to see him. Very happy. Good pope. I am crying and I'm happy to see him.

NAVARRO: In short, by everyone's estimation this was an enormously positive visit. Andrew Chesnut is a professor of religious studies at Virginia Commonwealth University.

ANDREW CHESNUT: I think this has been a great success, especially in appealing and connecting with the youth who came here.

NAVARRO: But what's important is what comes next and that won't be as easy, Chesnut say. Pope Francis is trying to stem the flow of people leaving the church for evangelical Christian sects.

CHESNUT: I think nobody can reverse what is probably an inexorable march towards this greater pluralization of the religious landscape. Brazil is kind of a mirror image of the United States. The United States no longer is a Protestant majority country and I think within a couple of decades Brazil will no longer be a Catholic majority country.

NAVARRO: Still, Pope Francis exhorted Catholics not to give up without a fight. Yesterday, in his final homily, he had these words. Where does Jesus send us? There are no borders, no limits. He sends us to everyone. Jesus Christ is counting on you. The church is counting on you. The pope is counting on you. Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Rio de Janeiro.

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