'Slum Pope' returns to Brazil slum with message of hope
RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) - The "slum pope" returned to the slum.
Pope Francis on Thursday visited one of Rio de Janeiro's shantytowns, or favelas, a place that saw such rough violence in the past that it's known by locals as the Gaza Strip. Despite heavy security and a cold rain, Pope Francis waded into the crowds without an umbrella and hugged and kissed residents young and old before heading into the shoebox of a church that serves the Varghina community. There he blessed a new altar.
His open-air car was mobbed on a few occasions as he headed into the community of flimsy, brick shacks, but he never seemed in danger. In fact, he was showered with gifts as he walked down one of the main drags of the neighbourhood: a paper lei, or necklace, hung around his neck and he held up a scarf from his favourite soccer team, Buenos Aires' San Lorenzo that was offered to him.
He came to bring a message of hope, following in the footsteps of Pope John Paul II who visited two such favelas during a 1980 trip to Brazil and Mother Teresa who visited Varginha itself in 1972. Like Mother Teresa, Pope Francis brings his own personal history to the visit: As archbishop of Buenos Aires, then-Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio frequently preached in the poverty-wracked slums of his native city, putting into action his belief that the Catholic Church must go to the farthest peripheries to preach and not sit back and wait for the most marginalised to come to Sunday Mass.