Many who have come to see the pontiff expect him to more directly address their grievances when he speaks Thursday from a futuristic three-level stage on the crescent-shaped beach, Catholic analysts say.
His advocacy for the poor and criticism of materialism and greed are expected to resonate with the young, particularly those frustrated by the inequality that plagues Brazil and neighboring countries, among them the pope’s native Argentina. But in his week-long trip, Francis has to strike a balance — ensure that his words don’t irritate the left-leaning host government, which has expressed a desire to work with the Vatican to battle inequality, while not raising hopes too high when discussing earthly concerns such as inflation and corruption.
Among the Brazilians following his words is Wesley Prado, 24, who participated in major protests here and was arrested. Prado acknowledged that in the new Brazil — the dynamic country that officials here promote to the world — he attends university for free and his family is in the middle class, which has expanded by 40 million people since 2003.
But like so many of the protesters, Prado has no patience for conformity and instead talks of a yearning for respect and a dignified life. He predicts more protests and lists a slew of complaints about Brazil that make him “feel suffocated” — the inadequate bus services, the dilapidated schools, the deep-rooted corruption and the Tokyo-level costs that make a trip to the grocer unsettling.
“It’s not one thing — it’s many, many things,” Prado said. “And it’s been accumulating for many, many years.”
On Wednesday, in an emotional visit to a rural basilica that holds the shrine of Brazil’s “Black Mary,” the pope spoke of his concern about “a growing sense of loneliness and emptiness in the hearts of many people.” He also addressed the young, saying they needed to be a “powerful engine for the church and for society.”
The comments that the pontiff has made in his four-month-old papacy have not been incendiary, partly because of his humility in delivering them. But in talking about the economic crisis whipsawing Europe, he has gone so far as to raise concerns about what he called “savage capitalism,” a term frequently used by Latin America’s left, while criticizing the “dictatorship of the economy” and those who exploit “without thinking about people.”