Papa Francis, the world’s greatest spiritual leader of Christianity, has become the pope of slum dwellers, beggars, paupers and people in those in distress. The world is already calling him “Slum Pope”. Since he washed the feet of 12 young detainees ‘to serve from the heart’ at Rome’s Casa Del Marmo prison. The world started to think and rethink about him; and now he visits all the slums of Brazil, talks to the people, checks their ramshackle homes, to make them understand he is with them; he wants them to know he is not some white colossal figure but a simple human with whom they can relate. And it enhances his popularity, which his predecessor did not.
Those in Rio De Generio’s Varginha slum were poor, working-class, even from the underclass; and they watched, astonished, as Francis visited a speck of a Catholic chapel, held up a scarf he had been given bearing the name of his favorite Argentine soccer club and stopped to bless overjoyed people in the crowd. The football crazy country were excited and impressed watching this!
The pope then strode into the modest home of a local family. The throngs of faithful — as well as the many evangelicals in Varginha — could barely contain themselves as the smiling pontiff again showed his populist side on the fourth day of his historic visit to Brazil, the world’s largest Catholic country. The lord Jesus with stretched welcoming arms seemingly welcomed the “slum pope” along with the crowd. The poverty-stricken people saw new rays of hope with him. His behavior made them overjoyed.
“He’s so calm among the people there,” marveled a commentator for the Globo TV network as the pope visited with the family after his stop in the San Jeronimo Emiliani chapel. “What’s it like for people in that home? What might they do — offer him a cup of coffee?”
Wearing a plain white cassock, the pope then mounted a stage on a soccer field and told residents that he hoped to visit “all the barrios of the city.”
“I wanted to come knock on all doors, ask for a fresh glass of water, drink a coffee — not cachaca,” he said to laughs from the crowd, referring to the local hot beverage made from fermented sugar cane. He became the people’s “slum pope” so easily.
“Brazil is so big, it is not possible to knock on every door,” the slum pope went on, “So I chose to come here, to visit your community, a community that represents all the barrios of Brazil.”
The crowd mostly in their teens or pre-teens cheered enthusiastically. Some young boys were even hopeful that Papa Francis may play a bit with them.
“The truth is that he’s the pope of a new time and is opening up a church, opening up a new church to everyone,” said Carlos Subelza, 28, a seminarian from northern Argentina. “He does what he says, and that wins him supporters.”
Lucas de Sousa Montes, 17, a high school student from northern Brazil, said, “Pope is here for revolution. He is our pope, pope of slums”.
No matter where the pope visits be it the slums of Rio or the exclusive beaches of Copacabana, the message is always the same: Don’t let money and greed steal your soul; they can only “bring the illusion of being happy.”
In his remarks in Varginha slums, the pope criticized the “culture of selfishness and individualism,” spoke of how the wealthy need to do more to end social injustice and told residents to “never yield to discouragement” because of corruption. Poverty should not devour their honesty or humanity.
He also appreciated the poor for the solidarity they show toward one another, saying such gestures can be a “great lesson for the world.”
And he stressed to the people of Varginha that he is on their side. “The church offers its collaboration on all initiatives that lead to the development of all people,” he said. “The church is with you. The pope is with you.”
Francis has become known as the “slum pope,” not just because of his advocacy for the downtrodden during his four months of being the pontiff, but also because of his courage in entering the “misery villages,” as shantytowns are known, in his native Buenos Aires. He always thought himself a rescuer for those in poverty and suffering malice. The,conservative eyes of the Vatican could not take him away from his people.
As archbishop of that Buenos Aires, he sent priests into the neighborhoods, and those who have closely followed his career say he allowed them to engage in the kind of activism that some in the Vatican hierarchy, most prominently his predecessor as pope, did not openly support.
So, day by day he is becoming the “Pope of the common people”, the “Slum pope” and Papa Francis with the heart of an ordinary man. He can walk down the slums, mix with downtrodden people, and uplift their lives. If washing feet was the beginning of papal service, no one knows where it is going to end.
Written by: Jayeeta Shamsul