Holier than the pope? Not nearly, but Brazil leaders are trying

Fri Aug 2, 2013 10:28am EDT
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By Brian Winter

SAO PAULO (Reuters) - With hecklers outside his beachfront apartment and an approval rating down to 12 percent, Rio de Janeiro state Governor Sergio Cabral has turned to a new source for inspiration: Pope Francis.

"The pope touched me," Cabral told reporters this week after the pontiff's visit to the world's largest Roman Catholic country for World Youth Day.

"I really did need a dose of humility. It was wrong of me not to listen," Cabral said. "I learned from the pope's visit, to listen to the other side. I'm open to listening."

Pope Francis left on Sunday night, but Brazil's beleaguered politicians haven't stopped trying to capture a bit of his magic. Leaders including President Dilma Rousseff have copied his gestures and quoted him at length as they search for ways to reconnect with the masses after nationwide street protests.

The rock-star treatment given to Pope Francis during his weeklong visit, which culminated in a Sunday Mass that drew 3 million adoring believers to Rio's Copacabana beach, was the mirror opposite of what Brazil's secular leaders are inspiring.

In June, more than a million people took to the streets in a series of protests to vent their fury over a long list of grievances including corruption, police violence, poor public transportation and a stagnant economy.

The demonstrations have become much smaller in recent weeks, but polls show the fallout continues to be devastating for most elected officials. The approval rating for Rousseff's government tumbled from 54 percent in June to 31 percent in July, and she and other incumbents will likely face a tough re-election battle next year.

Rousseff and others have repeatedly been booed in public appearances, while Cabral says he and his children have been unnerved by protesters camping outside their home.   Continued...

Pope Francis listens to journalists' questions as he flies back Rome following his visit to Brazil July 29, 2013. REUTERS/Luca Zennaro/Pool