George Goes to Rio (Or: It’s GOOD to be the Cardinal!!)


Previous posts have covered Australia Cardinal George Pell’s penchant for the finer things of life, such as his palatial $30 million Roman holiday home, “Domus Australia”. This appears to be in conflict with the new guy in the Vatican who promotes a more humble existence. Now, we have the explanation from the horse’s mouth.

Pell told Gerard O’Connell of the “Vatican Insider” earlier in the year that “The Holy Father is an old style Jesuit, he’s taken a vow of poverty and he takes it seriously. Most of the rest of us haven’t taken a vow of poverty.” When things got a bit boring at “Domus Australia”, George took some time off to fly half-way around the world to accompany about 40 “pilgrims” (no, we’re not tourists!) to Rio. On the way, he stopped off in Lima to catch up with an old mate, Cardinal Juan Luis Cipriani Thorne (pictured below).

George may feel hardly done by in being accused back in Australia of being complicit in a cover-up of priestly child sexual abuse, but poor old Capriani has even more problems. He was accused of having been complicit in a massacre of schoolteachers that took place during an anti-terrorism operation.


Cardinal Cipriani lights up a holy smoke

Since Pell has not taken a vow of poverty, he chose to stay at the Retreat House run by the Sisters of San Jose of Cluny (pictured below), which was not quite up to “Domus Australia” standard, but what can you expect in a country as poor as Peru?


Pell’s Peruvian digs – Retreat House aka “Domus Peru”

“It’s nice to be among friends,” as the head of Australia’s Nazi Party quipped on arrival in Berlin for the 1936 Olympic Games. Peru is probably the most Catholic country on the planet. As Pell himself noted on arrival in Lima, “Nearly ninety per cent of Peruvians are Catholics, with evidence of their faith and devotions everywhere.  Even the anti-Catholics are Catholic minded!” (exclamation mark not added). This is a lot better than Brazil, where, as Pell confides, “Over twenty per cent are now Protestant with a small minority (five per cent) of hostile secularists.”

The “pilgrims”, aged between 16 and 35, who accompanied Pell apparently also had a good time, since they too had not taken a vow of poverty. Here is one pilgrim’s account: “dinner at an all-you-can-eat buffet at the San Francisco Hotel. The food was great and many made full use of the ‘all-you-can-eat’ provision. I saw many students (and staff!) head back for seconds, and in some cases thirds! It was a big carbo-loading meal to preparation for the days ahead.”

Here is another endorsement from a happy pilgrim: “San Francisco Hotel has been a dream come true, a magical palace referred to by some as heaven. We begin to reflect and break down our pilgrimage so far, enjoying hot showers, massive pillows and beds which we didn’t want to leave. A giant buffet breakfast kept us going until dinner, each table a sea of real roses. There is a piano located in a lobby, with enough couches to seat every person. Mood lighting, carpet and marble floors are the finer details we so often take for granted.”

The Harvest Tours brochure lists several sight-seeing attractions for pilgrims in Peru.


Iguazu Falls


St. Rose of Lima Church and Sanctuary


Shanty Town outside Lima (digital colouring appears to have been added for effect)

Shanty Town? Oh, yes, indeedy! This is for spiritual development. As the brochure proclaims, “Enter into the rubble of the shanty towns and discover a surprising joy and faith amidst a resilient people that will profoundly inspire your way.” It goes on to note that “Paved roads don’t exist, the supply of electricity is haphazard and the rudimentary sanitation is the result of local initiative. Pigs and dogs are plentiful. Water is delivered by trucks and trees are rare. Families squat where they can find space on the hills.” Yet, apparently they are very happy. Perhaps they all took a vow of poverty.

The concrete steps in the shanty town photograph are being constructed by the hundreds of pilgrims, who paid about $3.5 million for their trip to it. The world has seen ecotourism, voluntourism and paedotourism. Now Pell’s favourite tourist company has introduced “povertytourism”. What will they think of next?

Although the steps are far from completed in the 400,000 resident shanty town, they were officially opened and blessed by Cardinal Pell, who smashed a bottle of champagne with a hammer to mark the occasion. Hopefully, the pigs and dogs did not lick up its contents.


Cardinal Pell blesses the staircase built by Sydney’s WYD pilgrims in Lima’s shanty town

George then posed for a few “selfies” with the hard-working pilgrims.


“Last night I returned home with five young people covered in paint,” Bishop Anthony Fisher OP wrote on the WYD – Catholic Diocese of Parramatta blog (


Eventually, everyone wanted to have their picture taken with the steps, now officially known as “The Cardinal’s Steps”. The locals appear to have chosen to remain indoors while the rich people from Australia posed near their homes, so as not to get in their way while the steps were being constructed.


Dominican priest, Fr Paul Rowse pitches in help Sydney’s pilgrims build a concrete stairway in Peru’s shanty town


This will make a GREAT mudslide in the wet season – wheeeeeee!!!!!!!


Bernard Toutounji Director of Sydney Catholic Youth Services heaves a bag of cement, captured on film by cameraman Dan Saban

Meanwhile, back at the Retreat, Fr. Greg Morgan has his photograph taken in front of the marble steps.


Here is Fr. Greg Morgan taking a moment to pray …

Of course, it’s not always just champagne and steps. The pilgrims and others are slowly but surely erecting a chapel where locals can offer up thanks for their steps. Here, George blesses the chapel watched by grateful locals. Fortunately, given the absence of a roof, it was the dry season. The blessing is required since the structure, erected by amateurs, lies in an area frequently rocked by earthquakes.


Pell wards off earthquakes (and mud slides)

When the locals left, it was time for the obligatory media interview, on site, so that the rest of Peru could know of his largesse. It required a change of hat, and a more somber expression.


Pell gives an interview

Of course, one should never waste a photo-opportunity. Here, we see pilgrims and selected locals together, marking the plaque (on the right, next to the beautiful stained glass window from Peru Wal-Mart) recording George’s opening of the chapel.


Happy pilgrims with happy local kids, who received “small gifts”.

Finally, everyone went back to Retreat House Chapel, where the pilgrims offered up thanks they weren’t poor Peruvians.


WYD pilgrims pray quietly in the Lima Retreat House

After Lima and Rio, everyone, including George, needed a few days to reflect on things staying at their accommodation (pictures not available) located near the magnificent “Iguazu Falls” on the border of Brazil and Argentina. Then it was back to Rome for more “reading” at Domus Australia.

TOMORROW: George goes to Turkey, again and again ….

That’s all I can say

Lewis Blayse (né Lewin Blazevich)


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