Carlos Rojas and the hillside slum of Vidigal are seen from Our Lady of Consolation Church in Rio de Janeiro.

CNS PHOTO | ELIE GARDNER, INTI MEDIA

Carlos Rojas and the hillside slum of Vidigal are seen from Our Lady of Consolation Church in Rio de Janeiro.

May 13, 2013

Since Blessed John Paul II visited Vidigal, a hillside slum in south Rio de Janeiro, in 1980, life in the settlement has taken a turn for the better.

The pope left his gold cross-shaped ring in Vidigal, urging the community to sell it and use the money to better living conditions.

In July, another pope will come to Brazil for World Youth Day. Carlos Rojas, a member of the committee that coordinated the 1980 visit, said another favela deserves the chance to experience what Vidigal did.

Since 1980, Rojas said the Catholic Church has played a pivotal role in helping the once-dangerous and drug-ridden neighbourhood improve.

“The only fight, the only one that the Church will serve, is the noble one for truth and justice, the one for the real good, the one where the Church is at one with each man,” Blessed John Paul told the people of Vidigal.

In the years that followed, those words rang true.

The pope’s visit and the media attention it generated turned the government’s eyes to the slum. Rojas says the government began to repair streets and put in streetlights.

Now, Vidigal’s ocean view and proximity to the most exclusive areas of Rio make it coveted real estate. Residents have been threatened by investors and in some cases evicted from their homes.

Rojas said the Church has defended the residents and helped to protect their homes.