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Pope faces delicate task in Brazil after protests

Despite his popularity, the pope has faced protests over the $53 million spent on organising his visit and World Youth Day.

POPE FRANCIS WILL today lead his first big mass since arriving in Brazil, officiating at the country’s most revered Catholic shrine and spreading his “church for the poor” message.

The first Latin American and Jesuit pontiff was due to arrive at 1230 GMT in Aparecida, where big crowds were waiting to get close to him for an event that Brazil’s leaders hope can steer a week-long papal visit back on course.

Rio de Janeiro’s subway broke down on Tuesday, causing chaos for throngs of pilgrims in the city for World Youth Day, a huge Catholic gathering, and a trip already marked by security lapses.

Brazil’s ability to handle this week is seen as a test of its capacity to host the football World Cup next year and the Olympic Games in 2016.

In Aparecida, a town of 35,000 people that sits halfway between Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, there are huge welcome banners and the area has been spruced up.

The pope will lead mass for 15,000 people inside the basilica and for another 200,000 outside, with 5,000 police and soldiers providing security.

“The pope is the best mayor we can get — in less than a week, he managed to have the streets repaved with asphalt,” beamed local resident Maria Elena de Oliveira ahead of the event.

Pope faces delicate task in Brazil after protests
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    Pilgrims attend the World Youth Day inaugural Mass. (AP Photo/Domenico Stinellis)
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    View of the altar during the inaugural Mass of the 2013 World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro. (AP Photo/Domenico Stinellis)
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    Clergy stand during the World Youth Day inaugural Mass at Copacabana beach. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)
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    Bishops wearing plastic rain hoods attend the World Youth Day inaugural Mass on Copacabana beach. (AP Photo/Domenico Stinellis)
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    A general view of the altar during the inaugural Mass of the 2013 World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro. (AP Photo/Domenico Stinellis)
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    Catholics kneel at portable confessionals set up in Quinta da Boa Vista park during World Youth Day events in Rio de Janeiro. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)
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    Thousands of young pilgrims gather on Copacabana Beach for a World Youth Day Mass in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Tuesday, July 23, 2013. (AP Photo/Jorge Saenz)
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    Thousands of young pilgrims gather on Copacabana Beach for a World Youth Day Mass in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Tuesday, July 23, 2013. Pope Francis returned to his home continent for the first time as pontiff, embarking on a seven-day visit meant to fan the fervor of the faithful around the globe. (AP Photo/Jorge Saenz)
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    Pilgrims hold onto the World Youth Day Cross, also known as the Pilgrim Cross, given to the youth by the late Pope John Paul II, during the inaugural World Youth Day Mass on Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Tuesday, July 23, 2013. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)

Advocating social and political support for the poor

After mass, the pontiff will travel in an open-top jeep to cover the more than two kilometres (1.2 mile) separating the shrine and the Bom Jesus seminary where he will rest and have lunch.

The 76-year-old Argentine previously visited the famous shrine at Aparecida — which houses a 18th-century dark statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary — during a bishops conference in 2007.

As Buenos Aires archbishop, he then chaired the panel which drafted the final document of the conference, a text with a strong social and political content in support for the poor in a region home to 40 percent of the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics.

The pontiff’s representatives have said the Catholic leader this week aims to reconcile the young with the message of a church able to renew itself at a time of crisis over a financial scandal and the sexual abuse of minors.

“He wanted to come to Aparecida by Marian devotion (a willingness to dedicate oneself to the Virgin Mary) and to officiate the first mass with the Brazilian people, but by visiting the shrine he is also saluting the whole region,” said priest Roni Dos Reis, a spokesman for the event.

“I think that for us, Latin Americans, here in Aparecida he will also outline this social message of commitment to the poor, to give dignity and not paternalism to people,” he added.

Faithful looking forward

Those gathered at the historic site wanted to see the pope up close.

“He is charismatic and we want to be near him to feel the quality of his spirit. It’s the way for the young to get closer to the church in Latin America,” said Emanuel Robles a 29-year-old Mexican.

Pedro Hernandez, 27, also Mexican, said: “I like his sensitivity and humility, two things which the Catholic church lacks.”

Pope Francis arrived in Rio to a rock-star welcome Monday, on his first overseas trip since his March election.

He is in Brazil mainly to join the World Youth Day celebrations, which aim to pull in 1.5 million enthusiastic Catholic youths.

Last year, 10 million pilgrims visited Our Lady of Aparecida, which was proclaimed Brazil’s patroness in 1930 and is celebrated on October 12. Francis will become the third pope to visit the shrine — after John Paul II, in July 1980, and Benedict XVI, in May 2007.

Protests over $53 million spent on organising visit

But despite his popularity, the pope has faced protests over the $53 million spent on organising his visit and World Youth Day.

Without referring to the criticism or to last month’s nationwide street protests in Brazil to demand better public services and an end to corruption, Francis said: “I have neither gold nor silver, but I bring the most precious that has been given to me, Jesus Christ.”

He called for a guarantee of basic human rights for the youths of the world, such as “security and education”.

- © AFP, 2013

Read: Pope Francis heads to Brazil to say mass on Copacabana beach
Read: The Catholic Church shouldn’t fear structural renewal – Pope Francis
Read: Pope names commission of inquiry into Vatican Bank

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