Pope Francis to bishops: Get out of your churches

1:19 PM, Jul 27, 2013   |    comments
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Pope Francis celebrates Mass with bishops, priests and seminarians at the Cathedral of St. Sebastian in Rio de Janeiro on Saturday. (Photo: Luca Zennaro, AFP/Getty Images)

RIO DE JANEIRO - Pope Francis told a gathering of Catholic bishops in the cathedral of this Brazilian city Saturday to get out of their cathedrals and spread the gospel and serve those most in need.

It was yet another admonishment from the first Latin American pontiff - who has called for a Church focused on the poor - for Catholics to adopt a more missionary mind-set.

PHOTOS | Pope Francis Continues His Visit To Rio De Janeiro

"We cannot keep ourselves shut up in parishes, in our communities, when so many people are waiting for the Gospel," Francis said.

"Let us courageously look to pastoral needs, beginning on the periphery (of where we live), with those who are farthest away, with those who do not usually go to church. They, too, are invited to the table of the Lord."

It was message aimed at reviving an institution dating back centuries in Latin America, but one becoming less relevant in the region as people become culturally Catholic or leave the church all together - often for Evangelical congregations.

The pope later took his straight-talking style to a speech for intellectuals and Brazil's political and business leaders. He implored them to open opportunities for everyone in a country rife with inequality, expand dialogue with all sectors of society and work toward "eliminating forms of elitism and eradicating poverty."

Brazil has been beset by demonstrations over protesters' complaints of an unresponsive political class, police repression and irresponsible spending on sports stadiums for the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics - while infrastructure remains inadequate and the health and school systems provide poor service.

Francis, who frequently criticized corruption and the political class in his native Argentina, called for "social humility" and dialogue without directly mentioning the protests.

"When leaders in various fields ask me for advice, my response is always the same: dialogue, dialogue, dialogue," he said. "It is the only way for individuals, families and societies to grow, the only way for the life of peoples to progress."

Looking to the wider world, he added, "Peaceful coexistence between different religions is favored by the secularism of the state."

Later, Francis planned to participate in an evening vigil with young people on Copacabana Beach and celebrate Mass there on Sunday - his final day in Brazil. Thousands of participants on Saturday were plying pilgrimage paths under overcast skies to arrive there.

On Friday night, Francis issued an impassioned plea for the downtrodden and oppressed while addressing throngs of young Catholics on Copacabana Beach for a re-enactment of Christ going to his crucifixion.

"On the cross," Francis said to a crowd estimated at more than 1 million, "Jesus unites himself to the silence of the victims of violence," along with those suffering drug addiction, discrimination and religious persecution, and "every person who suffers from hunger in a world where tons of food are thrown out each day."

The re-enactment is a tradition of World Youth Day, which convenes young Catholics every two years for an encounter with the pope. It has brought more than 300,000 self-styled "pilgrims" to Rio this year.

The event marks Francis' first foreign trip since his March election and has featured strong statements on issues he considers important to his pontificate, such as solidarity with the poor and even a condemnation of drug dealers as "merchants of death" and a rebuke of proposals to liberalize drug laws.

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