Pope Francis urged Brazilians to rely on dialogue instead of violence, as the country with the world’s biggest Catholic population grapples with its largest street protests in decades.
Citizens face the choice of either coming together in a climate of respect or losing out, Francis said today in Rio de Janeiro. Francis also called for more humanist economic and political systems to improve public participation and eradicate poverty.
“Between selfish indifference and violent protests there is always a possible option, dialogue,” Francis said during a televised speech. Dialogue is the “capacity to give and receive, remaining open to truth. A country grows when its different cultural treasures talk in a constructive manner.”
A bus fare increase in Sao Paulo sparked the protests last month. Unrest later spread to other cities including Rio de Janeiro, as demonstrators expanded their grievances to include corruption and poor public services. Since arriving in Rio last week on his first major international trip, Francis has attempted to address the causes of Brazil’s unrest without embarrassing local leaders.
President Dilma Rousseff’s Workers’ Party, or PT, lifted 40 million people from poverty under her predecessor Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. Even with recent strides, Brazil ranks 14th worst in income equality, below Nigeria and Russia, among 154 countries listed in the World Bank’s 2013 World Development Indicators. In 2009, 21.4 percent of the population remained below the poverty line, according to the World Bank.
“Take these words as an expression of my concern as a pastor of the Church, and respect and affection that I have for the Brazilian people,” Francis said today.
Francis is presiding over World Youth Day in Rio, which organizers say may draw 2.5 million attendees. The week-long event ends tomorrow.