Pope Francis in Brazil: Beware the 'ephemeral idols'
Pope Francis spoke at a mass that appeared aimed at countering the Catholic exodus to evangelical and Pentecostal churches. Pope Francis visited the Shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida or the 'Black Mary.'
Pope Francis urged Catholics to resist the "ephemeral idols" of money, power and pleasure as he celebrated the first public Mass of his initial international foreign journey as pontiff in an emotional visit to one of the most important shrines in Latin America.Skip to next paragraph
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Thousands packed into the cavernous Basilica of the Shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida, tucked into an agricultural region of verdant fields halfway between Rio and Sao Paulo, and tens of thousands more braved a cold rain outside to catch a glimpse of the first pope from the Americas returning to a shrine of great meaning to the continent and him personally.
Before the Mass, Francis stood in silent prayer before the 15-inch-tall image of the Virgin of Aparecida, the "Black Mary," his eyes tearing up as he breathed heavily. It was a deeply personal moment for this pontiff, who has entrusted his papacy to the Virgin Mary and, like many Catholics in Latin America, places great importance in Marian devotion.
During his homily, Francis urged Brazilians to keep Christian values of faith, generosity and fraternity, a message he was expected to repeat later in the day during a visit to a drug rehabilitation center in Rio de Janeiro.
"It is true that nowadays, to some extent, everyone including our young people feels attracted by the many idols which take the place of God and appear to offer hope," he said. "Often a growing sense of loneliness and emptiness in the hearts of many people leads them to seek satisfaction in these ephemeral idols."
The church is struggling in Latin America to keep Catholics from straying to evangelical and Pentecostal churches that often promise help in finding material wealth, an alluring attraction in a poverty-wracked continent. Francis' top priority as pope has been to reach out to the world's poor and inspire Catholic leaders to go to slums and other peripheries to preach.
It was no coincidence, then, that the first major event of his first foreign trip as pope was a Mass in Aparecida. The tiny shrine, which draws 11 million pilgrims a year, hosted a critical 2007 meeting of Latin American bishops who, under the guidance of then-Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, drafted a mission statement on how to reinvigorate the faith on the continent.