“Pope Francis always goes back to the issues of the poor,” Boff, 74, said in an interview after unveiling his 92nd book, which focuses on Francis and asks in the subtitle, “A new spring for the church?”
“And he has said, ‘You don’t help the poor with philanthropy but with social justice.’ Social justice requires change in society,” Boff said, speaking of a structural transformation he believes Latin America needs. “This is not something you usually hear from popes. They want to be distant, neutral — not him. He speaks from below for all to hear.”
Coming after a German pope known for being contentious and doctrinaire, Francis — an Argentine who in March became the first pope from Latin America — has prompted a level of excitement in the region for his humble style, coupled with a series of pronouncements and policy moves that are being interpreted as signs of possible change to come in a tradition-bound institution.
That is especially significant in Brazil, where many people express a need for a more socially active church to address the kind of disaffection that led hundreds of thousands of protesters, many of them young and angry because of corruption and shoddy public services, onto the streets in dozens of cities late last month.
People in this country say they have noticed the changes in Rome, how the pope opted to live in a modest apartment and walk among the faithful in St. Peter’s Square. They are well aware that in Buenos Aires he took the bus and the metro, cooked his own meals and visited the “misery villages” — the tough slums on the city’s outskirts.
Latin Americans also have heard the pope candidly criticizing avarice and materialism.
The Vatican’s chief spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, told the Sao Paulo newspaper O Estado on Friday that the pope might say more during his seven-day stay in Brazil for World Youth Day, which is expected to attract
1 million people to the Rio area.
“It will be a very strong message of responsibility leading toward a society that is just, is human and has solidarity, and with values for the future, leaving behind the oppression of the greedy,” Lombardi told the paper.
Joseph Palacios, a former Jesuit and an expert on the interface between religion and politics in Latin America, said this does not mean that Francis is an exponent of liberation theology, which Boff championed in the 1980s and which in its early stages mixed Marxism with traditional church teachings.