Pope in Rio Slum: ‘Never Tire’ of Solidarity and Social Justice

Visiting the Varginha favela, the Holy Father emphasizes the responsibility to assist the needy.

A boy flies a kite July 19 in the Rio de Janeiro shanty town of Varginha, which Pope Francis visited July 25.
A boy flies a kite July 19 in the Rio de Janeiro shanty town of Varginha, which Pope Francis visited July 25. (photo: LatinContent/Getty Images)

RIO DE JANEIRO — Speaking amid cheers in the soccer field of a Rio de Janeiro shanty town, Pope Francis urged people who are more economically privileged to “never tire” of working for solidarity and social justice.

“The Brazilian people, particularly the humblest among you, can offer the world a valuable lesson in solidarity, a word that is too often forgotten or silenced because it is uncomfortable,” he said July 25 to the residents of Varginha, a favela of the city that is hosting World Youth Day.

He continued, “I would like to make an appeal to those in possession of greater resources, to public authorities and to all people of goodwill who are working for social justice: Never tire of working for a more just world, marked by greater solidarity.”

Pope Francis visited Varginha after having said a private Mass at his local residence and visiting the mayor of Rio de Janeiro as well as soccer players. When he got to the favela, he visited St. Jerome Emiliani parish, blessing a new altar there. He also visited a couple who reside in the district.

The Alves family, who greeted the Pope, said “this historic day will mark our lives forever,” adding that they felt as though the Holy Father was “welcoming us with an open heart as a father.”

“Therefore, we would like to ask your permission to break a little bit of 'protocol,' as Your Holiness does sometimes, and call you Father, Father Francis, who welcomes everyone and, especially, the most poor,” they said in their warm exchange.

They related that Varginha was founded in 1940, when migrants from northern Brazil settled by a city dump, “driven by the dream of better days.” The district has suffered “neglect” from the rest of Rio since its founding, they said. “Such neglect, our dear Father, has been left behind since the moment of the announcement of your visit to our community.”

The Alveses spoke of how his visit has led to infrastructure improvements and added, “We hope it will continue this way.”

The couple assured “Father Francis” that they work for the good of the youth of Varginha, who “seek their strength in God” and are “fighting for a better life through education and decent work.”

“We are small, poor, forgotten,” they said, but “we remain faithful to God: simple, humble and united.”


Pope’s Response

Pope Francis then began his speech by proclaiming that he wished to visit all of Brazil, knocking on each door “to say 'good morning' … to speak as one would to family friends,” but that he was coming to Varginha, “which today stands for every district in Brazil.”

The Pope thanked the residents for their warm welcome and said that “to make people welcome” is a great gift, because “when we are generous in welcoming people and sharing something with them, some food, a place in our homes, our time, not only do we no longer remain poor, we are enriched.”

He commended the people of Varginha for being examples of hospitality, “demonstrating that true riches consist not in material things but in the heart.”

And yet, he said, “no one can remain insensitive” to the economic inequalities in the world, and everyone “should be able to make a personal contribution to putting an end to so many social injustices.”

The culture of selfishness and individualism that often prevails in our society is not what builds up and leads to a more habitable world: It is the culture of solidarity that does so.”

The "other" cannot be seen as a “rival” or a “statistic” he urged, but must be recognized instead as a brother or sister.

Pope Francis commended Brazil's efforts to “integrate” the poorest among its people and added that “no amount of 'peace-building' will be able to last, nor will harmony and happiness be attained in a society that ignores, pushes to the margins or excludes a part of itself.”

When a nation excludes, ignores or marginalizes any part of its population, “it loses something essential” and “simply impoverishes itself,” he taught.

“Let us always remember this: Only when we are able to share do we become truly rich; everything that is shared is multiplied. The measure of the greatness of a society is found in the way it treats those most in need, those who have nothing apart from their poverty.”


Church Support

The Pope then made reference to the "Aparecida Document," a 2007 text of the Latin-American bishops that he also mentioned when he visited Our Lady of Aparecida's shrine yesterday. He noted that the Church “wishes to offer her support for every initiative that can signify genuine development for every person and for the whole person.”

Giving bread to the hungry is a “necessary” act of justice, taught the Bishop of Rome, yet he added, “There is a deeper hunger, the hunger for a happiness that only God can satisfy.”

When so-called development ignores the “non-material goods” of a nation — its “fundamental pillars” — “there is neither real promotion of the common good nor real human development.”

He listed these “fundamental pillars” as life, the family, integral education, health and security.

Life, Pope Francis said, must be always “protected and promoted” as God's gift. He emphasized family as a “remedy against social fragmentation” and said that education must be about more than the “mere transmission of information for purposes of generating profit.”

Health involves the person's “integral well-being” and includes the “spiritual dimension,” the Pope said, and security must recognize that violence is overcome “only by changing human hearts.”

Pope Francis then addressed the youth of Varginha, noting that young people are particularly sensitive to injustice and are “often disappointed by facts that speak of corruption on the part of people who put their own interests before the common good.”

“To you and to all, I repeat: Never yield to discouragement. Do not lose trust; do not allow your hope to be extinguished.”

He reassured them: “Situations can change; people can change.”

“Be the first to seek to bring good; do not grow accustomed to evil, but defeat it. The Church is with you, bringing you the precious good of faith, bringing Jesus Christ, who 'came that they may have life and have it abundantly.'”


‘The Pope is with you’

The Pope concluded by emphasizing to the people of Varginha: “You are not alone. The Church is with you. The Pope is with you.”

“I carry each of you in my heart, and I make my own the intentions that you carry deep within you: thanksgiving for joys, pleas for help in times of difficulty, a desire for consolation in times of grief and suffering.”

“I entrust all this to the intercession of Our Lady of Aparecida, Mother of all the poor of Brazil; and with great affection I impart my blessing.”