Pope Francis is from a different mold, as his trip to Brazil, which ends Sunday, reminds us.
The crowds have been huge and the Pope is a humble and peaceful man. But he is also a political animal, and he is very strategic and intentional about the messages he sends.
This week, he let Brazilians know that he was with them in their protests of inequality and rebellion against the government. He denounced the “culture of selfishness.” He warned of the “ephemeral idols” of money, power, and success.
This Pope sticks to his themes — serve each other, serve the poor, live simply. And he’s going to keep hammering away at them. But he also sends his message by where he goes and by what he does.
In Brazil, the Pope went to a notorious slum — the Varginha favela in northern Rio de Janeiro. This sent an extraordinarily powerful message; Varginha has been labeled “the Gaza strip” because of its gunplay and gang wars.
He waded into a crowd that included “dangerous” people on the edge of society. It’s the same kind of neighborhood where he worked as a young priest. But it’s quite another thing to walk the meanest street as the Pope.
He told these poorest of the poor: “You 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 all, I repeat: Never yield to discouragement … do not allow your hope to be extinguished. Situations can change, people can change.”
Jorge Mario Bergoglio is a simple man, but not a simplistic or simpleminded one. He is a master of the media. For him, the message — clear, forceful, and driven home by repetition — is the medium.