Pope Francis issued the first social manifesto of his young pontificate today, telling slum dwellers that the world's rich must do much more to wipe out vast inequalities between the haves and the have-nots.
History's first Latin American pope, who has rallied the Church on behalf of the poor and who lives more austerely than predecessors, called for a "culture solidarity" to replace the "selfishness and individualism" prevailing in modern society.
“No one can remain insensitive to the inequalities that persist in the world,” he told residents of Manguinhos, a sprawling shantytown, or favela, of ramshackle brick dwellings that until recently was overrun by violence and controlled by drug lords.
His speech, under rains that have persisted throughout most of his first trip abroad as pope, comes halfway through a week long visit around World Youth Day, a gathering of young Catholics that is expected to attract more than a million faithful to Rio de Janeiro and nearby sites.
Despite the downpours and unusually chilly weather, tens of thousands of rapturous Brazilians and foreign visitors have turned out to welcome the pope. The World Youth Day events are an effort by the Vatican to inspire Catholics at a time when rival denominations, secularism and sexual and financial scandals continue to lead some to abandon the Church.
Brazil, home to the world's biggest population of Catholics with over 120 million faithful, is an apt locale for the pope to remind the world of inequality. A recent decade of economic growth in the country raised incomes for many, but tens of millions of Brazilians still live in poverty or with little more than the basics to get by.
In Manguinhos, Francis, an Argentine known for frequent outings into the slums near Buenos Aires even as a Cardinal, smiled and visibly enjoyed the close contact allowed with some of the residents there. He called for more efforts to end poverty and said the authorities must do more than just crack down on the drug trade to ensure opportunities for those at the bottom of the economic ladder.
“Everybody, according to his or her particular opportunities and responsibilities, should be able to make a personal contribution to putting an end to so many social injustices,” he said in an address on a muddy, rain-drenched soccer field next to a river smelling of sewer water.
Making the speech after blessing the favela’s small chapel and visiting one of its homes on a recently cleaned street, the pope challenged the rich and powerful to use their influence to enact lasting change.
“I would like to make an appeal to those in possession of greater resources, to public authorities and to all people of good will who are working for social justice: never tire of working for a more just world, marked by greater solidarity!” he said.
Driving in an open popemobile, Francis was surrounded by well-wishers and leaned out to kiss a woman and shake extended hands on the way to the slum, where there was a heavy police and military police presence for his visit.