2013-07-25 Vatican Radio(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis Thursday visited one of Rio de Janeiro's favelas, or Shantytowns called Varginha. Despite the rain the Pope met the crowds waiting to greet him. Our Correspondent Seàn Patrick Lovett is in Rio de Janeiro and sends this report.
Aside from his moving words regarding solidarity and social justice, aside from his visit to the tiny home of a poor family where he prayed with them in private, aside from the smiles and cheers of the children, women and men – Pope Francis’ time spent in the Rio favela of Varginha is likely to be remembered as the longest and most touching (both emotionally and physically) papal walkabout in history.
When Pope Francis said he wanted to “meet the people”, few of his collaborators realised he was speaking quite so literally. One pope-watcher who tried to count the number of babies he kissed, gave up after reaching around 138 – not considering the ones that “got away” (to the everlasting dismay of their mothers who will doubtlessly spend the rest of their lives scolding these unfortunate kids for not letting themselves be kissed by a Pope).
Highlights of the walkabout included the way Pope Francis calmed an especially exuberant group of school children by praying them into a brief but intense silence – and the patience he showed when he constantly risked having his sleeve (and right arm) ripped off by overly affectionate individuals who seemed intent on taking a piece of him back home with them. Again and again he plunged into the crowds that surrounded him, engaging people in conversation, dispensing blessings, caresses and words of encouragement and consolation.
But it was his gestures that spoke louder than any of the words (that none of us could hear anyway): the universal thumbs-up sign of positivity and participation, the way he constantly touches his heart to indicate his closeness and affection, the joined hands of prayer, and the physicality and generosity of his embraces, the shy, almost self-effacing smile – and the eyes that widen with curiosity and recognition, leaving people feeling that not only has the Pope seen them – but that they too are important.
I almost forgot. Distracted as we were by all this joy and excitement of the Pope’s visit to Varginha, many of us missed witnessing a sort of minor miracle.
Yes, the rain stopped…
Well, for about ten minutes, at least.