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Pope Francis Challenges Bishops

Photo by Buda Mendes/Getty Images

Pope Francis on Saturday challenged bishops from around the world to get out of their churches and preach, and to have the courage to go to the farthest margins of society to find the faithful.

During a Mass with 1,000 bishops in Rio’s beehive-like modern cathedral, Francis echoed the message he has told pilgrims at World Youth Day all week: A radical call to shake up the dusty church, which has seen its numbers dwindle in Europe due to 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.”

It was a slightly more diplomatic expression of the direct, off-the-cuff exhortation to young Argentine pilgrims he made on Thursday. In those remarks, he urged the young Catholics to make a “mess” in their dioceses and shake things up.

Francis’ target audience is the poor, the marginalized – the people he has singled out on this first trip of his pontificate by vising one of Rio’s most violent slum areas, by meeting with juvenile offenders and drug addicts, and by welcoming 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.”

Francis faces a busy Saturday: After Mass, he was going to Rio’s municipal theater to meet with Brazilian politicians, businessmen, intellectuals and the diplomatic community.

Afterward, he lunches with the region’s bishops and then presides over an evening vigil service on Copacabana beach that is expected to draw more than 1 million young people.

He returns to Rome on Sunday after the final Mass.

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