In Brazilian slum, a letdown after Pope Francis visits

Children cheer Thursday as Pope Francis tours the Varghina favela, or shantytown, in Rio de Janeiro. In the aftermath of the pope's visit, some residents said little changed in their lives.
(Mario Tama / Getty Images)

RIO DE JANEIRO -- In the favela, or slum, that served as a centerpiece of Pope Francis’ pilgrimage to Brazil, there was little sign Sunday that he’d ever been there.

The St. Jeronimo Emiliano church where the pope prayed on Thursday in the Varginha favela was chained shut. Crowds, meanwhile, were gathering for Sunday services at the Rosa de Saron Evangelical church. A plastic sign outside the local soccer club served as a lone reminder of the papal visit.

Not that the people had forgotten. But they had hoped for more.

“For the whole week, no one here could talk about anything but the pope’s visit,” said Rafael Ribeiro Marques, a 27-year-old resident who works in a hospital office. “And it meant improvements in our trash system, our street lights... but the people that live here are in dire need of more improvements.”

Plus, he added, all those people who crowded into the soccer field where Francis delivered an important speech demanding more help for the poor, well, “they ruined the grass.”


The slum received a major sprucing up ahead of the pope’s arrival, with newly paved streets and the laying of electrical cable. But residents now worry that was superficial, and temporary.

“It was amazing that the pope came here. No one expected that,” said Jose Maria Fernandes, a 66-year-old retiree. “And he brought attention to the problems of our community. I hope that will mean more improvements, because really, we are stuck with the same problems we always had.”


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