Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 24 April 2014

Big crowds as pope ends Brazil trip

Pope Francis during a farewell ceremony at Rio de Janeiro airport, Brazil (AP)

Pope Francis has ended his historic trip to his home continent after a week-long visit to Brazil that drew millions of people to the sands of Rio de Janeiro's iconic Copacabana beach and appeared to reinvigorate the clergy and faithful alike in the world's largest Catholic country.

Dignitaries including Brazilian vice president Michel Temer turned out at Rio's Antonio Carlos Jobim international airport to bid farewell to the Argentine-born pontiff after a visit marked by big moments.

They included a visit to a vast church dedicated to Brazil's patron saint, a rainy walk through one of Rio's dangerous slums and a papal Mass that was one of the biggest in recent history.

Speaking from a white stage on the sands of Copacabana on Sunday, Francis urged a crowd estimated at three million people to go out and spread their faith "to the fringes of society, even to those who seem farthest away, most indifferent".

"The church needs you, your enthusiasm, your creativity and the joy that is so characteristic of you!" he said to applause in his final homily of World Youth Day festivities.

Later on Sunday, he issued a more pointed message to the region's bishops, telling them to better look out for their flocks and put an end to the "clerical" culture that places priests on pedestals - often with what Francis called the "sinful complicity" of lay Catholics who hold the clergy in such high esteem.

Despite a series of organisational issues, including a subway breakdown on Wednesday that stranded hundreds of thousands of people for hours, Francis's visit was widely hailed as a success by the Vatican, pilgrims and everyday Brazilians alike.

His non-stop agenda was followed live on television for all seven days, his good nature and modesty charming a country that has seen a phenomenal rise of Protestant and evangelical Pentecostal churches in the past decades.

The Vatican said more than three million people were on hand for the Mass, based on information from World Youth Day organisers and local authorities who estimated two-thirds were from outside Rio.

Only Pope John Paul II's Mass during his 1995 visit to Manila, the capital of the Philippines, topped Rio's numbers, with an estimated five million people taking part.

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