John Paul II in Brazil, 1980

John Paul II in Brazil, 1980
The Pope with President Joao Figueirdo

When Pope John Paul II got off the plane in Brazil on June 30, 1980 he kissed the ground and said that it was the fulfillment of a dream to visit Brazil. He was attracted he told the president by the “ecumenism” of the country, meaning its mixing of peoples and heritages, its great history of heroic evangelization, and its youthful energy. But he made this major point: his purpose was primarily a “purely pastoral and religious mission.” As Bishop of Rome (Peter) he had come to “strengthen my brother bishops” (Lk 22.32) and to strengthen a “radiant faith” in the people. He hoped to see the Bazilian people give witness to “the reasons for their hope in Christ” (1 Pt 3.15) and communicate the “unfathomable riches of Christ’s love.” The sincerity of its pastoral and even missionary purpose is indisputable. Yet part of the special witness Brazil can give to the world, JP2 tells the president, is precisely “an exemplary form of social co-existence” and an effort to overcome  imbalances and inequalities in justice. He reminds them that their history, both religious and national, was “written by heroic, dynamic and virtuous missionaries.” He wishes to render to them “a homage of gratitude in the Church’s name.” Finally he says in his very opening speech that he wished to see a “consolidation of the church, the community of salvation.”

His next speech of the day was directly to the President, Joao Baptista de Figueredo. After reviewing his reasons for his admiration and love for Brazil and the historic connections between the country and the Holy See, he launches right out into philosophy and gives a precis of Redemptor hominis! —

“I have a vision of man that has no fear in saying Man cannot abdicate from himself . . . and become a slave of things and riches, to consumerism, to economic systems. . .to anyone or anything.”

“Man cannot eliminate the transcendent — God — without cutting himself off from his total being. Man will only find light for his own mystery in the mystery of Christ.”

He claims the world will benefit from this vision, this truth, which would provide a human dimension to politics, economics, culture etc. It provides a “base for programs of the ‘true civilization,’ or the ‘civilization of love.'”

From this vision, he says, the Church endorses the “legitimate institutions of the temporal order” and is pleased with the service of man, and the promotion of the “fundamental rights and liberties of all human persons” and participation in social and community life.

Pope John Paul II endorses the need for just reforms done in a timely and efficient way that avoids violence and suppression of fundamental liberties of “the dignity of man.”The Church does not enter into the details and means of such reforms, but the Pope can encourage each Brazilian to respect the fundamental rights of the person. “To proclaim and defend  these rights, without setting them before the rights of God or silencing the obligations that correspond to them, is a constant of the life of the Church in virtue of the gospels which are  entrusted to us.”

Pope John Paul II mentions “the right to life, the right to security, to work, to a home, to health, to education, to religious expression, both private and public, to participation, etc.” He reiterates the right of “parents to have children as they wish” and receiving what is needed to educate them in dignity.

These rights, he says, are “threatened in our day in the whole world.”

A transformation will require a conversion of the mind, the will and the heart of man.

Pope John Paul serves in the role as a teacher and a preacher. The sounds wisp away, words are always fragile, but received into the heart and mind, in formation of conscience, they can have the effect of transformation..

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