Pope Francis has led his first mass since returning to his native Latin America, warning the faithful against “ephemeral idols” like money and power at Brazil’s most revered shrine.
Some 200,000 pilgrims who braved rain and cold cheered when the Pope arrived at the Shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida in Sao Paulo state and entered its grandiose basilica.
“What joy I feel as I come to the house of the mother of every Brazilian, the Shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida,” he said in his homily after receiving and holding in his arms a black statue of the venerated Virgin Mary.
The 76-year-old pontiff, who arrived in Brazil on Monday for a weeklong Catholic youth event, is seeking to re-energize his young flock on his first overseas trip since becoming Latin America’s first Pope in March.
The region is home to 40 percent of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics but Brazil has seen its flock dwindle while Evangelicals gain ground.
In his homily, he urged pastors, parents and educators to “pass on to our young people the values that can help them build a nation and a world which are more just, united and fraternal.”
“It is true that nowadays, to some extent, everyone, including our young people, feels attracted by the many idols which take the place of God and appear to offer hope: money, success, power, pleasure,” he said.
“Often a growing sense of loneliness and emptiness in the hearts of many people leads them to seek satisfaction in these ephemeral idols.
“Always know in your heart that God is by your side; he never abandons you. Let us never lose hope.”.
The Pope has a special connection to Aparecida. It was here in 2007 that the then cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio led a bishops’ panel that drafted a document with a strong social and political appeal for the poor in Latin America.
An estimated 15,000 people packed the basilica for the mass while another 200,000 gathered outside.