The Real Message From Pope Francis During World Youth Day Rio

I suspect in the coming days, weeks, months and years much will be written about World Youth Day Rio and the message of Pope Francis. Perhaps, the crux of the message can be found streaming on the Vatican’s website late Saturday night, Bring the Gospel to the world. It hardly sounds radical and yet the Gospel message is radical; a message that rejected the decadent Roman Empire’s culture; and here we are nearly 2,000 years later and western culture is doing its best to emulate what was done in Rome circa the time of Caligula, Nero and Trajan.

In our hyperbolic media age many on the Christian right, the Christian left and the secular media in general has been spinning the message to tilt to their objective. The nature of the Secular Left is to make others think their views will inevitably conquer the world due to their intellect. The Right (both religious and non-religious) seems to think we are ever closer to completely buying into the Left’s ultimate goals. Both views are wrong. Salvation history is full of ebbs and flows.

Pope Francis in his address told the faithful, particularly sisters, priests and bishops to get out and preach the gospel. He lamented that too many of them are busy with things of the world. In a way the Holy Father was calling them out for being a bunch of “Marthas” when we really need a bunch of “Marys.”

This really resonated for me because I returned home late Saturday night after attending a Defending the Faith Conference at Franciscan University in Steubenville. The eminent Dr. Peter Kreeft gave a talk on how to lose and win “The Culture War.” In a nutshell, Dr Kreeft said too many orthodox minded faithful are putting their hopes in political movements and candidates when they should be confronting what the culture is doing to our faith and society at large.

His basic message was that we need to speak out, and be involved in less “busy work” that inevitably will not hasten the cause of religious and culture orthodoxy. We need to be both active and contemplative, and we certainly need to shut out the very noise that has invaded our culture, a noise that tells us we must be busy 24/7 and we must always be tuned into to some pre-programmed message emanating from our television, radio, ipod etc.

Some on the right get nervous when the Holy Father talks economics and helping the poor, as if he is saying something Jesus didn’t say, or advocating the very Marxist doctrine that he spoke out against and got him sent to Jesuit political exile in Argentina, before Pope John Paul II sent him to Buenos Aires. Those on the left who think he is preaching their message have forgotten this as well as his statements supporting the sanctity of life and traditional marriage.

The Holy Father continued to speak out against clericalism which some on the Left saw as right in their wheelhouse. However, when he mentions clericalism it is postulated against the popular piety he believes. For example, Pope Francis has dedicated his pontificate to Our Lady of Fatima. It is interesting to note that after World War I, the poor of the world greatly took to the Fatima message as well as new saints like St. Therese of Lisieux (the Little Flower.) The message of good and evil, heaven, hell and purgatory resonated with the salt of the earth.  However, many then as do many “enlightened” religious types today, dismiss Fatima as well as the simplicity of the Little Flower. In his closing remarks today to the Bishops of Latin America, the Holy Father once again decried modern self help gurus and “self reverential behavior,” something many in the secular western world virtually treat as religious doctrine.

We keep hearing how New York City and Los Angeles are two of the unhappiest cities in the western world. They have more therapists, counselors and psychiatrists per capita and still there is more demand. Recently I was taking to a fellow parishioner who is from the Philippines. She told me that this past Easter her family went to Manila to visit family and friends. She hadn’t been back in a few years. While at a major department store, an announcement came over the loudspeaker and everyone took a reverential pose. She had almost forgotten that even in department stores the Angelus prayer still takes place!

She told me that she attributes this piety to their shutting off much of the cultural noise we take in and as well as the poverty many in the Philippines face daily. They put their trust in Jesus and His Church and are much happier than those poor souls in LA or NYC who go into apoplexy when their “Shrink” moves to South Beach or Baja.

You can tell how successful the Holy Father’s trip has been by the number of angry atheist messages in the comment boxes of the various secular news sites. Those predicting the demise of the Church didn’t get the memo that was sent from Rio. Catholic News Service via New Advent had an interview with Cardinal Timothy Dolan stating that perhaps the greatest story that comes from World Youth Day is a reminder to the youth that they are not alone. Millions in attendance and the millions of young people watching around the world realize the Catholic faith is alive, despite secular entertainment world’s agenda to make the young believe their faith is a sign of ignorance in 2013.

Perhaps the best historical example I can use comes from Singapore in the Second World War. The Japanese commander General Tomoyuki Yamashita met with British commander Lt. General Arthur Percival to convince him to surrender. General Yamashita told General Percival that if he did surrender he and his men would be treated humanely. They did and despite assurances to the contrary, many were brutally tortured and killed. The fact of the matter was the British were not surrounded and could have fought to victory had they decided to do so. Prime Minister Winston Churchill called it Britain’s most humiliating military defeat The same holds true for the faithful today; events like World Youth Day prove we are fighting the good fight despite the militant secular world’s attempts to have us surrender.

Following 1993’s World Youth Day in Denver, a large uptick in religious involvement by young people as well as vocations followed especially in the United States. I believe the same will happen, especially in Latin America where the majority of the young people came from for World Youth Day Rio. The Holy Father gave us all something to ponder whether we lean to the political or religious right, left or somewhere in between.


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Dave Hartline

THE Ohio State University!


  1. Just a minor point, but New York and L.A. aren’t unhappy by many measures (such as suicide rates), and the number of therapists is simply a reflection of there being a lot of money in those cities combined with therapy not being considered shameful or “weak”. Many of the poor have need but not the money for therapists.

  2. Anon, on the surface your point sound valid, but with increased government assistance the poor certainly have more access to therapy than in years past. However, I will relate to you something a Catholic bookstore owner once told me. She said the older clientele she has rarely bought religious oriented self help books so she learned not to stock too many. She related to me that even though they were by and large particularly well off, they spent their time in prayer rather than in therapy. They had particular prayers, saints and of course the Trinity to which they prayed. They learned this in their youth and kept with the practice. It was a particularly revealing conversation.

  3. Good on you David. A great article. I am a bit concerned that Pope Francis’ messages seem to keep requiring interpretation in order to point out their orthodox core. Perhaps, this is reflective of just how much pressure there is now days to not say anything too contrary to popular and secular opinion. Maybe that’s why Jesus spoke in parables too. I guess I just wish there were more spiritually extreme Catholics out there making obviously orthodox comments like we read in the lives of the Saints and apparitions of Our Lady. Messages about the power of the Sacraments, our eternal destiny, the value of sacrifice… Maybe that’s my challenge.

  4. “Perhaps, this is reflective of just how much pressure there is now days to not say anything too contrary to popular and secular opinion.”

    I would submit he said many things that are as unpopular and anti-secular as can be. You just won’t get them through the LSM.

  5. Callan Leach, you said, “I guess I just wish there were more spiritually extreme Catholics out there making obviously orthodox comments like we read in the lives of the Saints and apparitions of Our Lady. Messages about the power of the Sacraments, our eternal destiny, the value of sacrifice”

    In addition to this excellent magazine, you might consider subscribing to “Crisis Magazine, A Voice for the Catholic Laity.” http://www.crisismagazine.com

    You will discover many orthodox Catholics engaging their liberal interlocutors on a myriad of issues.

  6. I’m from the Philippines and maybe the description you gave is from a decade ago. However, even if there are no malls that I know of that plays the Angelus on the loud speakers, there are masses on Sundays inside the malls and probably she heard it there, which is quite loud and may reach a few meters away. The culture of materialism is basically creeping in year on year, more people continue to become lapse Catholics. I hope that the reverence won’t be choked by the weeds or the voices of malicious rabble rousers in media and the legislature which take their cue from their foreign western counterparts.

  7. Thank you so much for sharing this Dave! It was a wonderful read! It’s a very good analysis of Pope’s message. It was clear and easy to understand.

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