July 22, 2013

Brazilian crowds delight pope, frustrate security

In his first international trip as pontiff, the Argentine-born Francis has returned to his home continent.

The Associated Press

RIO DE JANEIRO — A wrong turn sent a humble Fiat carrying Pope Francis into the thick of a frenzied Rio crowd Monday, in his first minutes back in South America since becoming pontiff. It was a nightmare for security officials, but for the clearly delighted pope just another opportunity to connect.

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In this image from video, a crowd mobs the silver Fiat carrying Pope Francis through Rio de Janeiro on Monday, July 22, 2013. Ecstatic believers forced the closed Fiat to stop several times as they swarmed around during the drive from the airport to an official opening ceremony in the center of the city. (AP Photo)

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Pope Francis waves from his popemobile as he made his way into central Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Monday. The pontiff arrived for a seven-day visit in Brazil, the world's most populous Roman Catholic nation. During his visit, Francis will meet with legions of young Roman Catholics converging on Rio for the church's World Youth Day festival.

The Associated Press

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Ecstatic throngs forced his motorcade to repeatedly come to a standstill, weeks after violent protests against the government paralyzed parts of Brazil. Francis' driver had turned into the wrong side of a boulevard at one point, missing lanes that had been cleared. Other parts of the pope's route to the city center weren't lined with fencing, giving the throngs more chances to get close, with uniformed police nowhere in sight to act as crowd control.

The three dozen visible Vatican and Brazilian plainclothes security officials struggled to keep the crowds at bay. Francis, however, not only looked calm but got even closer to the people. He rolled down his back-seat window, waved to the crowd and touched those who reached inside. He kissed a baby a woman handed to him.

"His secretary was afraid," papal spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi said. "But the pope was happy."

The pope is here on a seven-day visit meant to fan the fervor of the faithful around the globe. That task has grown more challenging as Roman Catholics stray, even in strongholds of the religion such as Brazil, yet it seemed to come easily to Francis even on the drive from the airport to an official opening ceremony.

After finally making it past crowds and blocked traffic, Francis switched to an open-air vehicle as he toured around the main streets in downtown Rio through mobs of people who screamed wildly as he waved and smiled. He left his popemobile — the bulletproof one — in the Vatican garage so he could better connect with people during the church's World Youth Day.

The Vatican insisted they had no concern for the pope's safety as his vehicles eased through the masses, but Lombardi acknowledged that there might have been some "errors" that need correcting.

"This is something new, maybe also a lesson for the coming days," Lombardi said.

Many in the crowd looked stunned to see the pope, with some standing still and others sobbing loudly.

"I can't travel to Rome, but he came here to make my country better ... and to deepen our faith," Idaclea Rangel, a 73-year-old Catholic choked through her tears after the pope passed by.

As many as 1 million young people from around the world are expected in Rio for the Catholic youth fest, a seemingly tailor-made event for the Argentine-born pope, who has proven enormously popular in his four months on the job. But the fervor of the crowds that regularly greet Francis in St. Peter's Square was nothing compared with the raucous welcome in Rio.

Popes generally get a warm welcome in Latin America; even the more aloof Pope Benedict XVI received a hero's welcome when he visited Mexico and Cuba in 2012. John Paul II frequently received rock star treatment, and during one 1996 visit to Venezuela, his motorcade was similarly mobbed when he stopped to greet well-wishers after greeting prisoners.

Outside the Guanabara government palace where the pope was officially welcomed, Alicia Velazquez, a 55-year-old arts teacher from Buenos Aires, waited to catch a glimpse of the man she knew well when he was archbishop of her hometown.

(Continued on page 2)

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Members of the faithful cheer in front of Rio de Janeiro's cathedral, seen at rear, as they wait for the arrival of Pope Francis, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on Monday.

The Associated Press

  


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