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. CGAW

    Good stuff! Go Pope Francis!

    July 28, 2013 at 2:25 pm |
  2. Andrew

    Has anyone else noticed how CNN, Fox, and almost every other "news" network have been pushing stories about the "royal" family and the pope? Do we live in Britain or Rome? No. Shame on CNN for promoting garbage that most people don't (or shouldn't) care about.

    July 28, 2013 at 2:23 pm |
    • manangdi22

      It's news worthy! The story is worldwide, duhhhh!

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

      So, you'd rather have another day of endless analysis on the effects of the Trayvon Martin case?

      July 28, 2013 at 2:45 pm |
  3. Hjc

    Some positive reporting about the world.

    I like it!

    July 28, 2013 at 2:21 pm |
  4. lionlylamb

    "Alice would be proud"...!!!


    July 28, 2013 at 2:17 pm |
  5. Jessi

    I have such high hopes for C'N"N but they keep missing all the big stories. It is always fluff not the major things this president id doing wrong. I voted for him too so I am no conservative but we have major issues they seem to be covering for him on, way to much. I mean Obama is doing some major things wrong that will or already do effect all of our lives but C'N'N just dodges all of them and instead puts fluff or some half way hard articles which are clearly tilted to not really wanting to believe he would do something wrong and even if he did, he was trying to do good. It makes you really loose faith in C'N'N and I used to love them when you see this over and over and over agin.

    July 28, 2013 at 2:15 pm |
    • manangdi22

      I think there is a complaint section somewhere ... just google it, send your complaint there!

      This is just one of those articles, sorry, dude, we can't help you here!

      July 28, 2013 at 2:28 pm |
  6. Amazing

    CNN=Catholic NEWS Network

    July 28, 2013 at 2:13 pm |
    • manangdi22

      Oh, please! the green eyed monster revealed! There is a news worthy event about the Catholic Church, it is a valid news event! If you don't want it, don't read and don't post!

      July 28, 2013 at 2:21 pm |
  7. us_1776

    The Catholic Church is finally revealed for what it is.

    A cult of pedophiles.

    Whose anti-marriage vows for priests guaranteed that the "right" type of individual would be enticed to join the priesthood (pedophiles).


    July 28, 2013 at 2:10 pm |
    • manangdi22

      It seems that you are obsessed with your pidophiles! There are phidos everywhere Catholics, Evangelical, atheist, you forgot pastors convicted of the same crime ... so ...

      Go outside and play!

      July 28, 2013 at 2:16 pm |
    • CGAW

      If your name is meant to be patriotic, I find you to be quite the communist, so leave the country please. You have no supporting evidence that the RCC is a cult of pedophiles. Pedophiles exist in every organization. Paul was a huge proponent of celibacy – read about it in the Bible. However, I will agree that the priesthood provides a target rich environment for pedophiles and do believe priests should be able to get married.

      July 28, 2013 at 2:29 pm |
    • Amanda O.

      What you wrote is absurd and untrue. If people don't like something don't read about. It is totally unnecessary to insult a billion people just because you don't share their beliefs.

      July 28, 2013 at 2:44 pm |
  8. America1st

    Good to have an exceptional Pope at the helm again.

    July 28, 2013 at 2:05 pm |
    • Paul

      Your faith will be rewarded

      July 28, 2013 at 2:11 pm |
    • lionlylamb


      July 28, 2013 at 2:25 pm |
  9. Jason

    An excerpt from a Modern Day Prophecy from the Living God:

    "I had sent My servants to you, yet you had no eyes to see. They spoke to you, yet you had no ears to hear. Therefore have I caused My sons to prophesy against you! THEREFORE SHALL I SPEAK AGAINST YOU! For your ways I do hate! All your pride and showmanship are a great perversion of My majesty! And when I called to you, saying, “COME OUT!”, you would not hear... You refused to listen!

    Churches of men, look on all you have done! You are trapped, ensnared by all your harlotries, which you have in common with your estranged mother, the catholic church... Satan shall devour you together!" – YaHuWaH

    TrumpetCallofGodOnline . com

    July 28, 2013 at 2:03 pm |
    • Paul

      wisdom stoops to conquer

      July 28, 2013 at 2:08 pm |
  10. mrC

    It always freaks me out when I see women screaming and fainting at the site of the Beatles or Elvis. Seeing 3,000,000 Brazilians screaming for the Pope is equally disturbing. If you are not a teenage girl at a Justin Bieber concert, you should not be fainting or screaming for anyone.

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

      Always avoid large groups of people, whenever possible. At 3 million the possibly of extreme danger has to be very close to 100%.

      July 28, 2013 at 2:21 pm |
    • manangdi22

      For practical purposes, with that kind of people in one place ... some, can't help but faint, it's because they are tired or hungry or because of excitement. Why are you questioning people's reaction? Are you Nazi?

      Wahhh, the posts are getting dumber hahaha

      July 28, 2013 at 2:24 pm |
    • Jp

      Ur an idiot

      July 28, 2013 at 2:46 pm |
  11. Jenny

    Too bad that the fact there is no god makes it all irrelevant.

    July 28, 2013 at 2:00 pm |
    • lionlylamb

      What are the odds against your beliefs.... 3 million believers to an insignificant few thousand dissidents..?

      July 28, 2013 at 2:12 pm |
      • Richard Cranium

        The number of believers or non-believers is irrelevant to the odds. The odds of something happening, or of having happened is not effected by the number of people who have an opinion about it.

        July 28, 2013 at 4:57 pm |
    • Gus

      So, to make your point up, tell us, what is your purpose in this life? why you came to this world? where are you going after life? what created you as well?

      July 28, 2013 at 2:17 pm |
      • bmurdoc

        "So, to make your point up, tell us, what is your purpose in this life? why you came to this world? where are you going after life? what created you as well"?

        Purpose in life is to propagate the species. We came into this world because our parents fulfilled their purpose in life and propagated the species. After life he will fall into oblivion, just like you. Don't worry though, you won't know that your dead. Nothing to be afraid of. What created us was evolution. Very simple.

        Now, who created God? Who created the creator of God? Who created the creator of the creator of the creator of God? Who created the creator of the creator of the creator of the creator of God? Etc...
        With whom did Adam & Eve's sons procreate?
        How are there kangaroos in Australia? How did they get there after the "big flood"?
        Why does your God allow animals to suffer? They had nothing to with original sin.

        I could go on and on...

        July 28, 2013 at 2:34 pm |
    • Paul

      If you become down and out, your faith maybe the only thing that saves you. Republicans seems bend pushing the weak down under. They do not even know the difference between intelligence and wealth. God knows they all disgraced themselves taking all that money.

      July 28, 2013 at 2:32 pm |
    • Jeff C.

      What proof do you have that God does not exist? It would be utterly selfish to withhold this information given the majority of the world has faith in some God.

      July 28, 2013 at 2:39 pm |
    • agentmisfit

      Where are the "facts" that support your claim of no possibility of God? Many men a whole lot smarter than you believe in God.

      July 28, 2013 at 4:51 pm |
  12. abmri60

    I was not that much interested in the catholic church, neither did I had any interest in the pope, but must say I have total respect for this humble pope Francis.

    July 28, 2013 at 2:00 pm |
  13. Laìs Santos

    there are people here so that each writing nonsense here and most evangelicals because it is bad-mouthing the Pope have nothing against the evangelicals you should respect the religions of others not to criticize

    tem pessoas aqui que tão escrevendo cada absurdo a maioria daqui e evangelìcos porque fica falando mal do papa não tenho nada contra os evangelicos vocês deviam respeitar as religiões dos outros não ficar criticando

    July 28, 2013 at 1:59 pm |
  14. Jim J

    If God isn't real, how did He create man in His own image?
    Checkmate, atheists.

    July 28, 2013 at 1:59 pm |
    • Richard Cranium

      He didn't. Men clearly created god in man's image.
      I don't think you used "check mate" in the correct way.

      July 28, 2013 at 2:05 pm |
      • reasonablebe


        July 28, 2013 at 2:12 pm |
      • mrC

        Well said Mr Cranium.

        July 28, 2013 at 2:25 pm |
      • agentmisfit

        Believing there is no God takes just as much faith as believing there is one. Atheism is just as much of a religion as Christianity or anything else. Being Agnostic at least makes sense and leaves the possibility that there could be or could not be a creator.

        July 28, 2013 at 4:55 pm |
        • Richard Cranium

          It takes no "faith" to not believe in gods. Does it take faith to not believe in the Loch Ness monster, or leprechauns?

          Atheism is not a religion. Just like the base belief of a god is not a religion in itself, not believing in something is not a religion.
          It seems you are trying to define others and what they believe to try to justify your own beliefs.

          July 28, 2013 at 5:05 pm |
    • reasonablebe

      ok, that is an oxymoron question- if there is no god, the answer is simply, evolution occurred. the idea of 'created in his image,' would be attributed to some man or group of men (likely no women involved or at least none acknowledged), coming up with a great story people would believe or buy into, for the sake of civil control of the group.

      creating a story which has the players created in the omnipotent power's image is appealing as people always want to place themselves at the top of the living world, the most important, etc. fits right in to what people want to hear.

      sorry, no check or mate at all, JJ.

      July 28, 2013 at 2:12 pm |
    • Salbat

      How do you know that God isn't a spider that created spiders in his own image?
      Checkmate, Christian

      July 28, 2013 at 2:12 pm |
      • reasonablebe

        ok, that goes a bit beyond anyone's thought, but the question is : which spider type (there are millions)? at least with the 'man in his image' myth, we know exactly which species they are asserting at the top- non sapiens, no question, not gorillas or any other ape, or any other related species.

        what arachnid would you be talking about?

        July 28, 2013 at 2:16 pm |
        • manangdi22

          You all should go out and play! You can bang your heads to the wall until it bursts. If you don't believe in anything higher than you, you will never be satisfied. You will forever be unhappy, bitter and lost. Faith is believing.

          July 28, 2013 at 2:34 pm |
  15. reasonablebe

    i'm not catholic, so it doesn't matter that much to me and i don't follow all that goes on or pope fevor. however, he seems to be a much more regular guy that the previous popes and seems to actually care about the average person and poor in his 'flock' than with his own appearances and fortune. refreshing, i woul think.

    July 28, 2013 at 1:58 pm |
  16. kilcourtney

    This is the stupidity of the Catholic religion and its followers. Even if you do believe in God and that Jesus died to wash us of our sins, how could you EVER believe that the people who murdered him are the leaders of his movement? This is how stupid Catholics are. Jesus was an anti violence, turn the other cheek, peace and love thy enemy humane being. The first four popes had more people murdered than all the emperors combined. How could you possibly believe that Jesus, a RABBI, chose the Romans as his leaders of his movement? You have to be beyond stupid to even consider this.

    July 28, 2013 at 1:56 pm |
    • reasonablebe

      all interesting and legitimate questions. however, given that there are people who follow this religion, at least this time they have a leader who doesn't seem to value his own worth or life above others. and he does not seem to be nearly as interested in his own wealth appearance. maybe the church will start giving some of it's wealth to the poor and average people.

      July 28, 2013 at 2:04 pm |
      • manangdi22

        There's no more wealth to give! IT seems that every altar boys are claiming they were abused by a Catholic priests, its not enough that the priest gets punish, they ask for money from the Church ... so, no money! And that is how people take advantage of a large organization as the Catholic church. However, the church will never stop helping the poor the way we know how!

        July 28, 2013 at 2:12 pm |
        • reasonablebe

          there is wealth and money- or there would be no more church ownership of realestate and no ability of the church to send it's minions all over the world, or take in, support, 'hide' from justice, it's priests and employees who are accused or accused of knowing complicity-- including cardinal bernard law from massachusetts, for example, for whom charges still stand unanswered (warrant for his arrest) because.... the pope then in power called him in and gave him permanent refuge.

          those without wealth do not have massive, valuable real estate. nor do they dress in custom clothing and shoes, not silk robes or anything similar.

          July 28, 2013 at 2:21 pm |
    • TriXen

      The stupidity of this post is that you are showing your religious bigotry. The Pope represents Peter, who most certainly did NOT kill Jesus. Gain some perspective and grow up.

      July 28, 2013 at 2:12 pm |
      • manangdi22


        July 28, 2013 at 2:12 pm |
      • reasonablebe

        i think the killing he is referencing is the church orders, by popes of the past, to kill, via the inquisition and other 'programs.'

        July 28, 2013 at 2:23 pm |
        • pplr1

          There was an Inquisition and it did terrible things but I don't believe it was run by the first 4 popes.

          Starting with Peter-who is often seen as the 1st pope-please explain who these for men supposedly killed.

          July 28, 2013 at 3:06 pm |
    • pplr1

      Consider the 1st 4 popes led a minority group from what was arguably a backwater of the Roman Empire. How exactly is it that they supposedly had more people killed than the emperors? That sounds made up.

      July 28, 2013 at 3:02 pm |
  17. lakishajohnson

    With the Pope now visiting Brazil, stories are again surfacing about the bizarre associations between the Catholic Church and Brazil’s own controversial quack faith healer ‘john of god’.

    July 28, 2013 at 1:47 pm |
  18. 66Biker

    If he doesn't do anything about all the child molesting Priests, and many other members of the Catholic Church who are just as bad as they are, he isn't any better than any other Pope. Which in my opinion, make his about worthless.

    July 28, 2013 at 1:46 pm |
    • manangdi22

      At this point, what do you want him to do? Round up all the priests that were accused of molesting and slaughter them? There is due process and the process is long because seems that victims are multiplying mysteriously. Now, every altar boys have claimed they were abused! The fact that he acknowledges these issues tells us about what he is working on it!

      July 28, 2013 at 2:07 pm |
  19. Mr. Duckworth

    Wow – the KKK bigoted and prejudiced mentality is alive and well, look at all these Catholic hater posts. None make any good or new points either. Just old recycled stereotyped hateful arguments that have been proven false many times. Bottom line: The Catholic church is the largest charitable organization in the world directly helping the poor -and we've won the Nobel Peace Prize for it (Thank God for Mother Teresa's great leadership). The Church is the oldest Christian church and has survived 2000 years of attacks and attempts to stop it – But you can stop the Truth which is why we've survived and will continue to.

    July 28, 2013 at 1:44 pm |
  20. madrogio

    Hey, what's the big deal? Probably a nice man and all (so was grandpa). But, ultimately, just another seller of snake oil. Wishful thinking, at $ a bottle. Problem? Well, a few; persecution of millions of non-believers, stunning disregard of population control and public health, and most of all perhaps (since we all die anyway), the denial of the truths of science and reason. Hope for the deluded and disillusioned? Well, maybe, but's that a tradeoff I don't want on my conscience....

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

      You forgot to mention buggering, you gracious person....

      July 28, 2013 at 1:42 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.