The most huggable Pope ever

Pope Francis greeting pilgrims along the Copacobana waterfront. Copyright: Caritas Brazil/Nando Zamban

Pope Francis greeting pilgrims along the Copacobana waterfront. Copyright: Caritas Brazil/Nando Zamban

By Michelle Hough, Caritas Internationalis communications officer in Rio de Janeiro

The Pope’s landing with his helicopter outside so I’m locked in the press centre in the military fort at the end of Copacabana beach. Meanwhile the Atlantic is looking pretty ferocious out of the window here and something like one million people are waiting on the beach, which is guarded by four battleships. Just your average day at work really.

The start to the day was much more mundane. During a failed attempt to find our president, Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, doing a catechesis out in the vast suburbs of Rio (the venue had been changed at the last minute), I bumped in Shelley Bourgoyne from Development and Peace (Caritas Canada).

This turned out to be a very fortuitous meeting because we were able to discuss how to use social media in the confederation’s upcoming anti-poverty campaign.

Shelley works in Toronto as a youth programmes officer for D&P. Some of the young people who volunteer with Caritas in Canada are at WYD with their parishes. Well over 1000 young people have come from Canada as a whole.

“The young people who volunteer with us are really inspired by the different things Pope Francis is doing which are unusual and unexpected,” Shelley told me. “They say he’s the most ‘huggable’ Pope ever.”

Shelley said the young people have been particularly encouraged by the Pope’s comments on social justice “particularly his calls to action to support our brothers and sisters around the world and to not turn a blind eye to the poverty that exists.”

A part of Shelley’s work with D&P consists of getting young people involved in the democratic structures of the organisation with the aim of understanding the power that they have to change things.

This process includes taking part in solidarity trips to poorer countries where they learn more about D&P’s work and gain a greater understanding of global inequalities.

Shelley said that on these trips, the people they visit often say, “Your support is really important to us but we need for you to go home and tell people our story and tell them what’s happening. Tell them the truth.”

Shelley said, “It’s really important for people to see first-hand what’s happening and to see their power used democratically. We’ve given them the tools and avenues to get involved with something that really makes a difference and that’s important for them.”

The work of Development and Peace and many other Caritas organisations around the world in educating the young about poverty and global inequality lays the groundwork for creating more aware and responsible citizens, who make their decisions with compassion rather than selfishness.

Pope Francis reminded us on Thursday that we should never tire of working for a better world. Visiting the Varghina favela, he said, “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!

“No one can remain insensitive to the inequalities that persist in the world! 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.”

World Youth Day and Caritas’ youth programmes are great opportunities to bring into focus what is important.

Father Lombardi, the Pope’s spokesperson, said today that World Youth Day is just a launch pad for young people’s faith. What’s vital is that they follow up on what they receive here in Rio and that they carry it with them for months and years to come.

All I can say, is that for the young people who really do want to live out their faith working with the poor, Caritas colleagues in 164 countries around the world are ready to welcome them with open arms.


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