A sea of pilgrims packed a Brazilian beach yesterday after spending the night on the sand for a final Mass with Pope Francis, ending a visit aimed at reigniting the Catholic faith.
Authorities expected 3 million people to bid farewell to Latin America’s first pope and endless crowds of flag-waving faithful gave him a rock star-like welcome as he cruised by in his open-sided popemobile.
The Argentine pontiff, who was due to fly back to Rome in the evening, waved at the adoring throng, kissed babies and sipped mate from his native country handed to him by a pilgrim as his white jeep took him to a giant beach stage on Copacabana.
Legions chanted “Long live the pope!” as the crowd threw soccer jerseys and other gifts to the pope in the sports-mad country that will host the World Cup next year. A “flash mob” then performed a dance before the Mass.
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner and Bolivian President Evo Morales were on hand for the World Youth Day mass, a gathering of young Catholics from around the world.
The pope has used his first trip abroad since his election in March to stir passion in a church that has seen its flock dwindle in Brazil in the face of rising secularism and Evangelical churches.
The head of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics urged his young flock to shake up their congregations and spread the gospel. He exhorted fellow clergymen to get out of their parishes and meet the faithful face-to-face, especially in the slums.
During a vigil on Copacabana on Saturday, he delved into political and social troubles in Brazil and elsewhere, voicing support for young protesters pressing for change.
“The young people in the street are the ones who want to be actors of change. Please don’t let others be actors of change,” the 76-year-old pope said, adding that they should use a “Christian response” to social and political concerns.
After Brazil was rocked by massive protests last month demanding better public services and an end to corruption, the pope urged the country’s elite to confront social turmoil with “constructive dialogue.”
The pope turned to family issues yesterday in his first interview since he succeeded retired pope Benedict XVI, telling Cathedral Radio that family was “important, necessary for the survival of humanity.”
On a beach usually associated with skimpy bikinis and caipirinha cocktails, nuns, priests and monks mingled with young pilgrims who came from as far as Australia, the Philippines and the US to see the pontiff.