Pope Francis challenges bishops to reach out

RIO DE JANEIRO — Pope Francis took his message to shake up the Catholic Church to bishops from around the world on Saturday, challenging them to get out of their churches and go to the farthest margins of society to find the faithful and preach.

In a separate appearance, he donned a feathered headdress as he embraced members of Brazil’s indigenous tribes and was swarmed by little ballerinas eager for a kiss on the head.

During a Mass with 1,000 bishops in Rio’s modern cathedral, Francis echoed the message he has delivered to pilgrims at World Youth Day all week: A radical call to renew the dusty church, which has seen its numbers dwindle in Europe from general apathy and in Latin America in the face of competition from charismatic evangelical congregations.


‘‘We cannot keep ourselves shut up in parishes, in our communities when so many people are waiting for the Gospel,’’ Francis said in his homily. ‘‘It’s not enough simply to open the door in welcome, but we must go out through that door to seek and meet the people.’’

Get Today's Headlines in your inbox:
The day's top stories delivered every morning.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

It was a slightly more diplomatic expression of the direct, off-the-cuff exhortation he delivered to young Argentine pilgrims on Thursday. In those remarks, he urged the youngsters to make a ‘‘mess’’ in their dioceses and shake things up, even at the expense of confrontation with their bishops and priests.

Francis himself is imposing a shake-up in the Vatican’s staid and dysfunctional bureaucracy, setting in motion an overhaul plan and investigations into misdeeds at the scandal-plagued Vatican bank and other administrative offices.

Francis’ target audience is the poor and the marginalized — the people that the first pope from Latin America has highlighted on this first trip of his pontificate.

He has visited one of Rio’s most violent slum areas, met with juvenile offenders and drug addicts, and welcomed in a place of honor 35 trash recyclers from his native Argentina.


‘‘Let us courageously look to pastoral needs, beginning with the outskirts, with those who are farthest away, with those who do not usually go to church,’’ he said Saturday. ‘‘They, too, are invited to the table of the Lord.’’

He carried that message to a meeting with Brazil’s political, economic, and intellectual elite, urging them to look out for the poorest and use their leadership positions to work for the common good. He also called for greater dialogue between generations, religions, and peoples.

‘‘Between selfish indifference and violent protest there is always another possible option: that of dialogue,’’ he said in a reference to the protests that have wracked Brazil in recent weeks. ‘‘A country grows when constructive dialogue occurs between its many rich cultural components: popular culture, university culture, youth culture, artistic and technological culture, economic culture, family culture, and media culture.’’ He added that religion plays a critical and unifying role.