- (Photo: Reuters)
Pope Francis addressed hundreds of thousands of young pilgrims at the celebrations marking the World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro this week, saying if the church did not spread the faith in the streets it would be reduced to a non-governmental organization.
"I would like to tell you what my expectations are regarding this World Youth Day," Pope Francis said on a rain-soaked Copacabana Beach. "I would like us to make noise, I would like those inside the dioceses to go out into the open; I want the Church to be in the streets; I want us to defend ourselves against all that is worldliness, comfort, being closed and turned within – parishes, colleges and institutions must get out otherwise they risk becoming NGOs, and the Church is not a non-governmental organization," The Vatican Today quoted him as saying in his native Portuguese on Thursday.
Francis arrived in Brazil on Monday, ahead of World Youth Day events.
On Friday, the pope counselled eight prisoners, six boys and two girls, who came from four prisons in the Rio de Janeiro area at the residence of Archbishop of Rio de Janeiro.
"The pope had strong words of encouragement for each one," Father Federico Lombardi, the pope's spokesman, was quoted as saying. "One of the girls sang him a song, and they presented him with a rosary that was inscribed with the words, 'No more Candelaria, no more violence.'"
Two decades ago, gunmen shot homeless children seeking shelter in the Candelaria Roman Catholic Church in Rio. Eight of the children died.
On Thursday, the pope addressed another crowd in the Varginha shantytown, a slum area of northern Rio that is infamous for violence.
"No one can remain insensitive to the inequalities that persist in the world!" Francis told the crowd. "No amount of peace-building will be able to last, nor will harmony and happiness be attained in a society that ignores, pushes to the margins or excludes a part of itself," The Associated Press quoted him as saying.
"You are often disappointed by facts that speak of corruption on the part of people who put their own interests before the common good," Francis said. "To you and all, I repeat: Never yield to discouragement, do not lose trust, do not allow your hope to be extinguished."
The Varginha visit was one of the highlights of the pope's weeklong trip to Brazil, the world's largest Roman Catholic country.
Francis is the first Jesuit pope, the first pope from the Americas, and the first from the Southern Hemisphere.
The pope has said he wants to reform the Church and bring it back to its original mission.
Soon after his election in March, the pope appointed a group of eight cardinals to help him bring changes in the Church's administration, which has been plagued with scandals, especially during the eight-year reign of Pope Benedict.
The pope, born Jorge Mario Bergoglio, chose to take the name of Francis, the most severe critic of the papacy before Martin Luther. He caused a ripple through the Catholic faithful when the day before Good Friday he washed the feet of a woman – a Serbian Muslim inmate at a prison in Rome.
Pope Francis has urged leaders of the Church never to give in to discouragement, bitterness or pessimism but to keep focused on their mission.