Editor’s note: This is an analysis piece by Afonso Soares, a professor of theology at Pontifical Catholic University of São Paulo.
Pope Francis’ visit to Brazil has had one important difference to that of his predecessor Benedict XVI in 2007: the current pontiff’s charisma.
A key example was his arrival. Before he had met the authorities, he wanted to greet the people, and has done so from an open Popemobile, despite the cold weather. Another was to celebrate mass at Aparecida, the country’s most important Catholic shrine. Originally, this had not been on the papal itinerary, but this gesture shows an appreciation of the popular religiosity in Brazil.
Francis is a pontiff with a sensible lifestyle and coherent, rational thought – and that’s the difference. Instead of beckoning the youth to the church, he asks for young Catholics to meet other young people, youngsters who may not have access to basic rights like education, health care and even culture.
The exodus of members from the church is undoubtedly not a personal concern for him. It may concern the church administration – that is the Roman Curia in the Vatican – but it is not his. Francis himself insists on the coherence between the person who says they are Catholic and the person who acts Catholic. If the price to pay for that ideology is a decrease in the number of faithful, I am certain he would accept, and even prefer, that way.