Pope Francis’s message to young people during his visit to Rio is perhaps best captured in the video of his address to young Argentine pilgrims on Thursday 25 July. This was an addition to his programme, and his short talk was not scripted.
In addition to his invitation ‘to make trouble’, the Pope invited his audience to adopt two other missions: to fight against the exclusion of young people –especially through unemployment– and old people; and not to ‘dilute’ their faith, focusing on two passages of the Gospel: ‘just two’, that’s enough’. The Pope’s two recommended readings were the Beatitudes and Jesus’ description of the Last Judgment as being about whether we fed the hungry, clothed the naked, cared for the sick and visited the imprisoned. The style illustrates the Pope’s preference for a simple, graphic message rather than abstract speeches.
Although couched in different language, the need for ‘trouble’ in the Church was an element in Francis’s address to the Brazilian bishops. He discussed the exodus of people from the Roman Catholic Church: ‘Here we have to face the difficult mystery of those people who leave the Church, who, under the illusion of alternative ideas, now think that the Church –their Jerusalem– can no longer offer them anything meaningful and important. So they set off on the road alone, with their disappointment. Perhaps the Church appeared too weak, perhaps too distant from their needs, perhaps too poor to respond to their concerns, perhaps too cold, perhaps too caught up with itself, perhaps a prisoner of its own rigid formulas, perhaps the world seems to have made the Church a relic of the past, unfit for new questions; perhaps the Church could speak to people in their infancy but not to those come of age… Faced with this situation, what are we to do? We need a Church unafraid of going forth into their night. We need a Church capable of meeting them on their way. We need a Church capable of entering into their conversation.’
Dialogue was also a theme of Francis’s address to politicians and leaders of civil society, including indigenous, on Saturday 27 July: ‘Between selfish indifference and violent protest there is always another possible option: that of dialogue. Dialogue between generations, dialogue with the people, because we are all people, the capacity to give and receive, while remaining open to the truth. A country grows when constructive dialogue occurs between its many rich cultural components: popular culture, university culture, youth culture, art, technology, economic culture, family culture and media culture, when they are in dialogue with each other. It is impossible to imagine a future for society without a significant contribution of moral energies within a democratic order which will always be tempted to remain caught up in the interplay of vested interests. A basic contribution in this regard is made by the great religious traditions, which play a fruitful role as a leaven of society and a life-giving force for democracy. Peaceful coexistence between different religions is favoured by the laicity of the state, which, without appropriating any one confessional stance, respects and esteems the presence of the religious dimension in society, while fostering its more concrete expressions.’ An interesting aspect of his remarks is his approval of a secular state, with no established religion.
Alongside the central purpose of his visit, to encourage young Catholics from around the world to celebrate their faith, Francis has given further signs of his conviction that the Catholic Church needs shaking up, needs to go down into the streets and listen to people.
At a global level, this will of course mean dealing with the abuses, financial and sexual, that have damaged the Church so much. For this he has appointed an international commission of cardinals, which is due to report in October. This is the next big test for Francis, but for most people within the Church he seems so far to be moving in the right direction.