RIO DE JANEIRO -- Pope Francis urged political leaders in Brazil on Saturday to pursue dialogue as a way of calming tensions that led last month to mass protests over government corruption and wasteful spending.
"Between selfish indifference and violent protest there is always another possible option: that of dialogue," Francis told dignitaries gathered in the Municipal Theater here. Contending that constructive dialogue is "essential for facing the present moment," the pope said it would be "impossible to imagine a future for a society" in which channels of dialogue were closed to sectors beyond "vested interests."
The comments by the pope came after demonstrators chided the authorities over their violent reaction to the latest protests, including some criticizing Sérgio Cabral, the governor of Rio de Janeiro State, and government spending in support of Francis' visit. The pope is nearing the end of a weeklong trip to Brazil.
While these protests are not as large as in June, they remain intense. On Friday night, protesters in São Paulo vandalized bank offices up and down Avenida Paulista, the city's most prominent thoroughfare.
Beyond the turmoil in Brazil, the pope's comments may resonate in other parts of Latin America, especially his home country, Argentina, among the most politically polarized in the region. Argentina's president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, who fiercely battles her domestic critics, is scheduled to come here this weekend to attend a Mass celebrated by the pope.
Before becoming pope in March, Francis, 76, was known as the self-effacing archbishop of Buenos Aires. As Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, he met with critics of doctrine and was known for his openness in debating social issues; at one point in 2010, he supported civil unions for gay couples but was overruled by Argentina's bishops.
While Francis has focused largely on efforts to re-engage young people in the Roman Catholic Church, his emphasis on social justice has clearly played well in a country where people are fuming over abuses of power.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.