PLENTY OF PROBLEMS
Even with holidays, plenty went wrong during the week.
On Monday last week, as Francis traveled into the city center from the airport, his driver turned into an unprotected lane along a major avenue, where adoring crowds surrounded his vehicle and reached in through the window to touch him.
Though the pope himself appeared to enjoy it, staff and security were horrified, perhaps recalling the shooting of Pope John Paul as he rode in his open vehicle in St Peter’s Square in the Vatican in 1981.
On Tuesday last week, a malfunction in the Rio metro left some subway stations out of service for more than two hours. The shutdown caused many visitors to miss an inaugural mass.
In midweek, as rains pounded Guaratiba, the distant suburb where a giant altar had been erected in a muddy pasture, Paes said there were no plans to change the venue. On Thursday last week organizers changed course, recognizing that the mud and rain could cause health problems and even accidents for the legions that would have to travel there.
However prudent the decision, it disrupted the plans of hundreds of thousands of people. Critics said it could have been avoided if organizers had picked a more suitable location to begin with. Locals who had invested heavily in concessions for the hordes of visiting worshippers were left in the lurch.
Rio officials had helped sell the city for big events by pointing to a long history of the annual Carnival and New Year’s celebrations, which both attract more than a million revelers to its streets. Local authorities now acknowledge they face a learning curve in staging the international gatherings.
“We have had two big events in a row and we have learned from both,” said Jose Monteiro, head of the state’s office for security at large events.
Looking ahead toward the World Cup and Olympics, he promised: “We are doing our homework.”
Ian Nanke, an Australian who attended World Youth Day in Sydney in 2008, had struggled to find a place to sleep on Saturday on Copacabana. Back home, he recalled, pilgrims were guided toward specific areas and transport was more efficient.
“It’s hard to get there on time,” he said. “Call it organized chaos.”
Additional reporting by Felipe Pontes