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August 3, 2013 by William H. Scarle, Jr. 

Pope Francis took off from the airport in Rio de Janeiro at 7:35 p.m. last Sunday after what the Vatican considered a fruitful week’s visit to the continent on which he was born.  Pope Francis was born in Argentina.  His visit was a part of the Roman Catholic World Youth Celebration which is held biannually.  Young people had traveled to Rio from all five continents to join in the week long activities.  Some two thirds of the celebrants were from outside Rio.

The final Mass which was held on Sunday morning on the beach at Copacabana was attended by some three million people stretching across the entire two and a half mile long strand of sand.  The only time this attendance record was exceeded was in 1995 in Manila where the attendance reached five million.

The Pope’s message was challenging and essentially Christian.  In his homely during the Mass he said, “Do not be afraid to go and bring Christ into every area of life, to the fringes of society, even to those who seem furthest away, most indifferent.  There are no borders, no limits, He sends us to everyone.”  This sounds very much like the Great Commission of Jesus that his Disciples go into all the world and preach the Gospel.

There is no question that our world needs a religious revival if the Christian civilization created by that Gospel is to remain.  The officials of government were on hand for the mass Mass.  The presidents of Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia and Surinam were on hand, along with the vice presidents of Uruguay and Panama.   How much of that was politics and how much was religious awareness is not for me to judge.

Not everyone was thrilled with the Pope’s visit.  The number of evangelical Christians and Pentecostals in Brazil has increased between the years 2000 and 2010 from 28 million to 42 million.  This represents a jump from 15 percent of the population to 22 percent of the population.  These evangelicals were not likely at the beach on Sunday, but worshipping in their own congregations.  One young lady I saw interviewed on TV news remarked, “He’s only a man.”

This loss has not escaped the Pope’s notice.  Not a few of his remarks were aimed at preventing this defection from the “Church” of those who have found other Christian expressions and fellowship.

This is where there is a significant divergence of understanding in the Christian world.  Do we call people to Jesus or do we call people to an institution?  It was Jesus himself who said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for you souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”  It would have been refreshing if the Pope had simply called people to faith in Jesus and acknowledged that all who come to him belong to the family of God and are brothers and sisters in the Kingdom.

In a world in great need of God, Christians need to focus, “Looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith.”

(Bill Scarle can be contacted at  END-whs