July 28th, 2013
08:56 AM ET

What we learned about Pope Francis in Brazil

By John L. Allen Jr., CNN

Rio de Janeiro (CNN) - We didn’t need Pope Francis’ trip to Brazil this week to grasp that the new pontiff, who’s set a tone of simplicity and love for ordinary people, is a hit.

Polls around the world show approval ratings that would be the envy of any politician or celebrity, while vast crowds show up in Rome for even his most routine activities.

What Brazil confirmed, perhaps, is that his act plays as well on the road as at home.

During his week in Brazil for World Youth Day, an international Catholic event, mob scenes erupted everywhere Francis went, despite cold temperatures and driving rain for much of the week.

On Monday, frenzied admirers almost hijacked his motorcade. On Wednesday a group of nuns shrieked and rushed the pope like teenage girls at a Justin Bieber concert, and on Thursday  he drew more than a million young people to a worship service on Rio’s Copacabana Beach. A Saturday prayer service drew 3 million people, according to organizers.

At one point, Francis greeted 30,000 young Argentines in town for World Youth Day, a gathering that turned this city into a virtual Argentinian colony. Given the fierce national rivalry between the two countries, one local pundit said that under any other circumstances, the presence of so many screaming Argentines in the streets of Rio would have been considered an act of war.

Beyond that, here are four things we learned about Pope Francis from his week in Brazil:

A sedate charisma

Francis was elected at 76, so he doesn’t exude the animal magnetism of the early John Paul II, the last pope to command this kind of popular affection.

Elected at 58, John Paul delivered dramatic gestures like the actor he once was. For instance, he would kiss the ground of whatever country he was visiting, something Francis didn’t do. John Paul would clap and stomp his feet during musical numbers, and at night he would pop out the window of his residence to tell jokes and boom out one-liners.

Francis has a more sedate charisma, allowing his smile, his genuine delight in meeting people, and his homespun wisdom to do the work.

During a visit to a Rio slum, for instance, he said the poor are often the most generous folk, quoting a Latin American proverb: “You can always add more water to the beans.”

Francis may be a rock star, in other words, but not the “pump up the volume” sort. Think Simon and Garfunkel, not the Rolling Stones – or maybe Taylor Swift, not Lady Gaga.

He’s changed the storyline

If proof were needed of how much Francis has changed the storyline about the Catholic Church, consider that he’d been in the global spotlight for five days by the time Friday night rolled around, and no one had even raised the Church’s child sexual abuse scandals until he did so himself.

Speaking at the end of a procession recalling Jesus’ carrying of the Cross, Francis said Jesus is united with all who suffer, including those who “have lost their faith in the church, or even in God, because of the lack of consistency of Christians and ministers of the gospel.”

Boston’s Cardinal Sean O’Malley, a veteran of the Church’s struggles with the abuse scandals who was in Rio for the pope’s visit, said the scandals were “an aspect” of what Francis had in mind.

The veiled reference was a reminder of how much the scandals have hurt the Church. Yet the fact that they didn’t cloud Francis’ trip, as they likely would have for a different pope, was also a lesson in how much Francis has given the Church a new lease on life.

A savvy politician

Heading into the trip, there was fear that Brazil’s massive street protests in June might reignite. Aside from a few scattered incidents, that didn’t happen, and Francis seemed to navigate artfully though the political shoals.

The “Pope of the Poor” repeatedly called for greater attention to the needy, and on several occasions applauded the thirst for justice among young people.

During his visit to a Rio slum, he said that no “pacification” campaign can succeed without addressing the social conditions that breed misery – an indirect slap at recent crackdowns on violence in the slums by local police.

At the same time, Francis didn’t embarrass his hosts. He was gracious with Brazil’s embattled president, Dilma Rousseff. He dropped by Rio de Janeiro’s city palace on Thursday to pray over the flags for the 2016 Olympics, meaning that organizers can literally claim a papal blessing against complaints that splashy events such as the Olympics and the World Cup are a waste of money.

In the end, Francis offered a little something for everyone, without blurring his central message expressed in the slum visit: “The measure of the greatness of a society is found in the way it treats those most in need.”

Energizer Bunny of a Pope

Finally, we learned that despite his advanced age, Francis has a seemingly boundless reserve of energy.

Even before he left Rome, he had trimmed the two days of rest planned for Benedict XVI to one, adding a 150-mile outing to Aparecida, Brazil, on Wednesday to visit a famed Marian shrine, and later in the day stopping by a Rio hospital that treats alcohol and drug addicts.

On the plane en route to Brazil, he stood for an hour to chat with each journalist covering the trip, then spent the rest of the flight talking to his Vatican aides and making notes. A spokesman said nap time had been planned for the pope, but he never used it.

Even on his alleged day off on Tuesday, Francis kept at it. He held a business meeting with a cardinal from Honduras, Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, who’s in charge of a new council of eight cardinals from around the world helping the pope with Vatican reform.

At one stage, a Vatican spokesman confessed, “I’m happy we’re halfway through, because if [the trip] were any longer I’d be destroyed.”

Despite the grueling pace, Francis seemed as fresh at the end as at the beginning. Nor will things slow down anytime soon, since he’s already announced that he won’t take the usual papal break in August, but will stay on the job in Rome.

The “Energizer bunny” aspect of his personality should serve Francis well, because his bravura performance in Brazil notwithstanding, the Vatican is not going to reform itself.

John L. Allen Jr. is CNN’s senior Vatican analyst and senior correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Brazil • Catholic Church • Pope Francis

soundoff (493 Responses)
  1. COLDP

    Why do you atheists fear God? Is it your conscience? Is it doubt about your own intelligence? The Catholic Church continues to grow, world-wide. Every year millions of new believers join the church in Asia and Africa. Every year the message continues to resonate with the poor and the humble. The church is not perfect but however imperfect the messenger, the message is still as powerful today as it was 2,000 years ago–God is Love. He forgives your sins.

    July 28, 2013 at 1:38 pm |
    • Pie

      And EVER YEAR the world continues to get worse on all levels and more immoral by the second. Catholicism exerts a huge negative influence on the earth with all of its hypocritical, mindless followers. Sadly, its spreading.

      July 28, 2013 at 1:43 pm |
    • OTOH

      It can only sell its story to poor, uneducated, gullible, highly superst'itious people these days. Everywhere else it is declining.

      July 28, 2013 at 1:45 pm |
      • manangdi22

        First of all before you judge people and belittle the poor and uneducated, check your spelling! You are the one appearing uneducated!

        July 28, 2013 at 2:02 pm |
        • OTOH

          Excuse me, manangdi22, will you please point out the spelling error in my post.

          July 28, 2013 at 2:26 pm |
        • OTOH


          Hello? No response?

          (heh heh, this should keep him busy for a while, folks!)

          July 28, 2013 at 2:42 pm |
    • Opus #1

      LOL! "He forgives your sins." The Catholic motto. They think they can do whatever they want because "God forgives." WRONG. “If we practice sin willfully after having received the accurate knowledge of the truth, there is no longer any sacrifice for sins left.” Not sure which scripture this is?? Then LOOK IT UP. This is the category most all hypocritical Catholics fall under.

      July 28, 2013 at 1:47 pm |
      • manangdi22

        You look it up, punk! You're the one presenting your argument and you tell us to look up your source? Bottom line is you are acting like you know what you are talking about but in reality you don't!

        July 28, 2013 at 1:59 pm |
      • Mr. Duckworth

        I love these non Catholics who have no clue about the religion but try to tell everybody what Catholics believe. This is so foolish but is good because they reveal how ignorant they are and how dumb and prejudiced their arguments are. All your ignorant hate based comments are irrelevant and don't influence anyone in your direction – they only serve to show people who the stupid ones are; please keep making your foolish posts and reveal your IQs.

        July 28, 2013 at 2:01 pm |
  2. us_1776

    The Vatican has been a place of scandal since the beginning of the church.

    The wealthy could get just about anything they wanted from the church.

    Google: Vatican Time Off Purgatory Twitter

    The church was the subject of many "indulgences" scandals dating back through many centuries.

    Scandals that today would see people in prison or dead. You could basically "buy" yourself out of any crime or situation.

    I guess the church is just trying to revive a little of that history.

    As if they didn't have enough "scandals" to worry about already.


    July 28, 2013 at 1:36 pm |
    • Mr. Duckworth

      And Martin Luther was seriously and aggressively anti-semetic – have you read some of his writings on the Jewish faith? I hope you don't believe his theology. Plus he re-ordered the bible to try to hide and de-emphasize the epistle of St James because it did not agree with his philosophy of Justification thru faith alone. Luther fell into the trap and deadly sin of pride and ego and tired to make himself the supreme leader – and all he did is cause a major unnecessary schism that continues to confuse protestants (who are otherwise good and decent people) but mislead. Probably you too.

      July 28, 2013 at 1:50 pm |
    • manangdi22

      You went to google and now you are the authority on the Catholic faith and its history? You are so funny!

      July 28, 2013 at 1:53 pm |
  3. Gus

    Planet earth is facing critical moments relate to political crisis, crime, terrorism, air pollution, environment degradation, religion conflict and God. when it comes to the future of this world, it seems to be that such existence would be gone soon or later as result. So, I stand up with people like the Pope who is straggling to make this soil a better place to live

    July 28, 2013 at 1:35 pm |
  4. joey

    no pun intended, aggies

    July 28, 2013 at 1:28 pm |
  5. Tym3Ky113r

    I sure hope one day this poor soul may find jesus and be saved...

    July 28, 2013 at 1:28 pm |
  6. BillofRightsforever

    Your ignorance and bigotry is revealed in your commentary. No one in the Catholic faith considers the pope God. Try not to be so condescending of others and their faith.

    July 28, 2013 at 1:25 pm |
    • larrylivingston

      Yeah! They don't think the pope is god. They think the bread and wine is god! They really need to learn to use a fork when they eat god though...seriously.

      July 28, 2013 at 1:29 pm |
      • BillofRightsforever

        You can be forgiven for your ignorance and lack of faith. It would be nice if you stop spreading your misery, hatred and bigotry.

        July 28, 2013 at 1:34 pm |
        • manangdi22

          Thank you! It's time to put these ignorant people in their proper place. They use sarcasms to appear that they know what they are talking about, but in reality ... they don't know jack!

          July 28, 2013 at 1:37 pm |
  7. Dennis

    Not an ex youth nazi!

    July 28, 2013 at 1:23 pm |
  8. Shelly

    I'm sure he appeals to child molesters, but otherwise he has no appeal.

    July 28, 2013 at 1:22 pm |
    • BillofRightsforever

      So much prejudice, hate and bigotry in your commentary. I hope you stop spreading your misery and find some happiness in your life.

      July 28, 2013 at 1:31 pm |
  9. Alexander

    I am personally an atheist, but I have a lot of respect for this pope, turning a 2000 year old religion into a wonderful humanist movement, unlike many of the previous and current church leaders. There's really nothing about him that comes across as out-of0touch. If you want to criticise his outfits or the crowds, go to a Justin Bieber or Lady Gaga concert- guess how much they're helping our world become a better place.

    Helping thy neighbour is universal common sense, but then again, how many people in this planet would do it on their own all the individualism and frivolousness of what we call a comfortable modern lifestyle? That's why I think all these millions of people in Brazil are better off as Catholics than not. I hope he'll be able to inspire them and the rest of the clergy for the best.

    July 28, 2013 at 1:18 pm |
    • joey

      a very ignorant atheist. he did nothing to try and stop the murder and torture of fellow Argentinians. he did nothing about pedo priests, and stood silent about recycling them so they could commit more crimes. he refused to meet with any of the pedo victims. anything else ?

      July 28, 2013 at 1:22 pm |
      • manangdi22

        Get over yourself and you profess that you are intelligent that is why you don't like organized faith such as religion? but by your reprimand of a fellow atheist, you are the disgrace!

        July 28, 2013 at 1:40 pm |
    • Shelly

      As a fellow atheist, I am disgusted by your post. The church is dangerous, and controls minds. The fact that you support that nonsense says something about you, now doesn't it.

      July 28, 2013 at 1:24 pm |
    • larrylivingston

      Wow, and I had assumed that atheists were intelligent people...guess that's not 100% true.

      July 28, 2013 at 1:31 pm |
    • bmurdoc

      Stop claiming you're an atheist. You are giving us a bad name. Thanks

      July 28, 2013 at 1:37 pm |
    • lalaland

      Wow the three replies to this comment are so sad... I feel sorry for such miserable people. No good in the world, just obsession with pedophilia. I guess when you're "right" all the time it's hard to see from others' point of view.

      July 28, 2013 at 1:39 pm |
    • Richard Bergstrom

      I'm not an atheist, nor a Christian. Francis isn't perfect, either as a Pope or in his past, but I do like what he's done so far and he seems to go about things with good intentions. And for me, that's enough.

      Heck, if the Christian view of God did exist and sent Jesus down to deliver a New Testament accompanied by burning bushes and walking on water, modern society would still nitpick him to death.

      Just give Francis credit for saying some (for the Church) new things and trying to be a decent human being.

      July 28, 2013 at 1:40 pm |
    • manangdi22

      Thank you for your comments, yes, it is better to believe in something than nothing. We hope too that we can work together to help one another to better this world in our own ways!

      July 28, 2013 at 1:43 pm |
    • Terrill

      That was a nice intelligent post.

      July 28, 2013 at 1:53 pm |
    • Terrill

      That was a nice intelligent post.

      July 28, 2013 at 1:53 pm |
  10. Lindsay

    "What Brazil confirmed, perhaps, is that his act plays as well on the road as at home". What the heck?

    July 28, 2013 at 1:11 pm |
  11. sendthistodave

    ".....He doesn't mind going into dangerous neighborhoods...." – yeah, in his bulletproof Catholic Terrarium mobile

    July 28, 2013 at 1:11 pm |
    • manangdi22

      his bullet proof mobile is open! No walls in each side! Didn't you see? you probably thought he is still using the previous mobile, see, just keep your mouth shut, lest, you appear ignorant.

      July 28, 2013 at 1:17 pm |
    • chcharlene.gcharlene

      agree,and as well as he is for the poor but no food given to the poor neighborhood...

      July 28, 2013 at 1:19 pm |
      • manangdi22

        What is he Santa Claus? Did he say, he's going to give food for the poor? That is the job of the Brazilian government! Wow, as I read the comments here, it is getting stupid! Just go away! Go out and play! No one can rain on the Pope's parade not even these self profess intelligent, know it all people in this forum!

        July 28, 2013 at 1:45 pm |
  12. manangdi22

    First of all, he never said and no one said he is "The God" as some ignorant people who like to twist around word. Can you all be polite and let us, Catholic, enjoy this moment? Are you that threatened? Get off your laptops or computers and play outside! This is our moment, please allow us for that! We don't go to your atheists, other religions; articles to preach about Catholic faith. To each its own, insecure sects!

    July 28, 2013 at 1:10 pm |
    • joey

      this human choose inaction during murder, torture by the Argentine military. did the same for the pedo priests to commit more crimes. and refused to meet with the pedo victims. enjoy your moment.

      July 28, 2013 at 1:13 pm |
      • manangdi22

        I assume, you are replying to my comment, however, you did not address any of my points in my comments. Will you just address the points I raised, or do not reply to my comments or better yet, go out and play! You need fresh air!

        July 28, 2013 at 1:19 pm |
    • Andy

      "We don't go to your atheists" Please replace "We" with "I".

      July 28, 2013 at 1:18 pm |
      • manangdi22

        so, we are on grammar syntax discussion here. Ok, I still stand by my belief that no Catholics go to atheist articles and argue with them. Catholics are busy professing their faith by getting out and doing something in their community than waiting for Catholic articles and bashing them!

        July 28, 2013 at 1:22 pm |
        • joey

          to busy with their college station second mile charities

          July 28, 2013 at 1:27 pm |
    • Joe

      Maybe not, but you do show up at my door at 8 AM on Saturday morning now and then, and I think that's a bit more annoying than some (admittedly rude) comments on an Internet news story.

      July 28, 2013 at 1:22 pm |
      • manangdi22

        Excuse? Catholics knocks on your door on a Saturday morning? Where? Tell me where what church? You are mistaken with the Mormon, and since when we force to sit down with you and preach the bible at you? You are talking a different religion!

        July 28, 2013 at 1:32 pm |
    • simba

      You make a good point. This man, Pope, goes to Brazil; millions of Brazilians come out to welcome him. Yet these atheists are mad as h$ll. I am not a Catholic, I am not even religious (I believe in God). But what harm does it do me that Catholics have a leader who seems to care for the common man; and they (Catholics) come out in throngs to pay him homage. What wrong does it me, that millions of Moslems make their pilgrimmage to Mecca. And if I (as these atheists do) hate religion so much, then why would I come to a religious section of CNN to 'hate' on Catholics.
      It seems that every atheist I have ever met is angry and bitter. They always have a bone to pick and seek to ridicule anyone who sees different than they. Maybe they feel that God should have made them beautiful and rich and famous; and since he (God) did not, they hate God, and rather than admit they hate God, they choose to deny his existence. Poor souls. For the religious amongst you, pray for them.

      July 28, 2013 at 1:43 pm |
      • manangdi22

        Thank you!

        July 28, 2013 at 1:49 pm |
  13. Kevin Park

    I am always a happy person I don't have any particular thoughts about this pope, or other news stories like 9/11, the Holocaust, or Newtown. I just happily live my own life by myself and focus only on my own business 🙂

    July 28, 2013 at 1:06 pm |
    • mona19595

      Wow Kevin you must be pretty loanly only thinking of yourself....doesn't sound like you have much compassion for anyone but yourself. Good luck my friend, I believe you will need. it.

      July 28, 2013 at 1:32 pm |
    • John

      Glad you are so content. A lot of people you don't know have sacrificed for your contentment. Hope you will eventually feel some need to return some of the favors you have received.

      July 28, 2013 at 1:54 pm |
  14. M.E.

    I'm not Catholic or even Christian in general, but I like this pope. He seems to have his head in the right place. No matter who you are or what you believe, working to help the poor is always to be encouraged and respected. He's a good man with a heck of a job to do. If he can pry the priests off the little boys and get some reform done, I think he'll have done plenty of good for the world. That's high praise too, I'm not usually a big fan of religious leaders.

    July 28, 2013 at 1:06 pm |
    • Kevin Park

      The Catholic Church scandal doesn't really involve me so I don't have an opinion on it. I am just a happy person who just sticks to his business 🙂

      July 28, 2013 at 1:07 pm |
      • manangdi22

        Thank you!

        July 28, 2013 at 1:12 pm |
  15. The Thinker

    Pope Francis - Thank you. Thank God for you. Not everyone will hear and see your goodness. But those of us who do are so blessed and uplifted. You give me hope. You give me joy. Thank you. Bless you.

    July 28, 2013 at 1:04 pm |
  16. joke

    That man is like everyone else., I don't know why people pray him ......

    July 28, 2013 at 1:04 pm |
  17. rob

    Here's what I've learned about Francis: he's a repugnant bigot.

    July 28, 2013 at 12:59 pm |
    • Mr. Duckworth

      Here's what I've learned about you: You're ignorant and prejudiced. You better get offline now, you might be late to your KKK rally.

      July 28, 2013 at 1:01 pm |
      • joke

        Please Duck wakes up, you are sleeping, that man is not God.

        July 28, 2013 at 1:06 pm |
        • manangdi22

          joke, you're such a joke, who said that he is God? Get a life!

          July 28, 2013 at 1:14 pm |
        • Messager

          You are right He is not God but He is a beast that what Bible says in Revelation 19 all way to read this chapter! He may be likely steal Jesus higher as God! Because look at how many people worship him as their god! He think he is powerful on the universal!

          July 28, 2013 at 1:33 pm |
      • manny

        Don't pay any attention to these people. They are just wackos that enjoy to spoil everything that speaks of love and happiness in life with negative comments

        July 28, 2013 at 1:36 pm |
    • manangdi22

      Here's what I found out about you ... you don't have a life! If you don't believe in him, why are you wasting your time in this article and even commenting! It's either you don't have life except to lurk on your computer or you don't have friends to spend time with!

      July 28, 2013 at 1:13 pm |
      • joey

        because we don't like humans that support pedo organizations.

        July 28, 2013 at 1:15 pm |
        • Andy

          Tim Minchin says it best with his Pope song.

          July 28, 2013 at 1:20 pm |
        • manangdi22

          Did you read his stand on that lately? Was he the one who did it? Was he the Pope when those happened? So, if someone killed a person and he happen to have a wife, his wife is going to jail too?

          July 28, 2013 at 1:25 pm |
        • manangdi22

          So much hyprocrisy, you probably know one phido yourself! They are all over, Catholics, Evangelical, atheist. You zeroed in on the Catholic church because it was all over the news! And of course, they are Catholics! The church is doing their best to give justice to those victims, what else do you want? Oh, I know you want, you want Catholics faith to go away!

          July 28, 2013 at 1:28 pm |
  18. joey

    he was voted in by the other pedos because during Argentina's military slaughter he remained silent. during all the Argentine pedo cases he remained silent and refused to meet with the victims. the other voting pedos were impressed.

    July 28, 2013 at 12:55 pm |
    • Mr. Duckworth

      Fact is stats show Male Teachers / Coaches and social workers have a much higher rate of abusing children then religious people. Why don't you question these occupations? Selective justice is called prejudice and ignorance – get an education.

      July 28, 2013 at 12:57 pm |
      • joey

        fact is, all those you mentioned are ALSO religious people. but those that hide behind a moral authority and commit these crimes, you will be ridiculed by me until my last breath. don't like it ? to damn bad.

        July 28, 2013 at 1:02 pm |
        • agentmisfit

          teachers and coaches are religious positions?

          July 28, 2013 at 4:34 pm |
  19. CapitanJusticia

    Atheists suck!

    July 28, 2013 at 12:50 pm |
    • joey

      does that remind you of being an altar boy ?

      July 28, 2013 at 12:56 pm |
    • Youcantbeserious

      CaptainJustica, everyone is an atheist with respect to the thousands of other religious and god-claims they make – including you. In that light, I'd agree with you that 'atheists suck' - why do you reject the obvious truth of Zeus? Have you not heard the 'good news' of Zoroaster?

      July 28, 2013 at 1:02 pm |
  20. young_tennis

    I am very unsure of this papacy thing, especially when boys, cute young boys, are involved.

    July 28, 2013 at 12:48 pm |
    • CapitanJusticia

      I am very unsure you were not dropped as a a baby!

      July 28, 2013 at 12:58 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.