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Conscience Magazine

Pope’s World Youth Day Message Different in Tone, Not Substance

September 16, 2013
Pope Francis (L) and Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone return from their trip to Brazil for World Youth Day. Seen stepping out front of their Alitalia plan
Pope Francis (L) and Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone return from their trip to Brazil for World Youth Day. © Reuters/Alessandro Bianchi

In his first major trip since becoming pontiff, Pope Francis headlined World Youth Day 2013 events across Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, a country whose Catholic population has declined from 74 percent in 2000 to 65 percent in 2010, according to Pew research.

Greeting crowds from a more open vehicle than the closed “Popemobiles” used in the last two papacies, the pope visited slums, reached out to leaders of other faiths and urged Catholic youth to “make noise … and essentially shake up the life of the church,” according to CBS News. In an airplane interview on his way back to Rome, Francis seemed to break from his predecessors’ condemnation of homosexual clergy, asking “Who am I to judge?” about gay priests. However, when it comes to women’s ordination, Francis took the same hardline stance as Pope John Paul II, stating that “that door is closed.”

No changes in the church’s teachings on sexually active gay Catholics—or reproductive health issues like contraception and abortion, which clearly impact the poor—came out of World Youth Day 2013. Speaking to BBC News, Jon O’Brien, president of Catholics for Choice, described the impression left by Pope Francis: “The rhetoric does not match the reality. It’s business as usual, albeit with a more friendly face.”

Pre-event estimates of attendees were low, prompting the Vatican to ask Brazilian officials for an additional $40 million on top of the more than $60 million the host country had already committed, according to the Irish Independent. An estimated 3 million pilgrims attended the pope’s closing Mass on Copacabana beach.