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Pope's relentless pace in Brazil leaves his aides praying for a rest

BY MARK JONES

Pope Francis's relentless pace on his tour of Brazil is said to be wearing out his aides.

The 76-year-old Argentine Jesuit, who lost most of one lung following an infection in his youth, has been acting like a man half his age during his first international trip as pontiff, adding in last-minute events to his full schedule and going with the flow after heavy rains forced major changes in the World Youth Day agenda.

His spokesman, the Rev Federico Lombardi, said such vigorous activity has been the norm since Francis' arrival, with usually staid bureaucrats getting "stressed out" by his pace.

He quipped: "I'm happy we're halfway through because if it were any longer I'd be destroyed."

Francis added two unscheduled events to an already full day on Thursday: a morning Mass with 300 seminarians followed by a meeting at Rio's cathedral with 30,000 Argentine pilgrims.

Francis, dubbed the "slum Pope" for his work with the poor, had earlier received a rapturous welcome from one of Rio most violent shantytowns.

Amid the stench of raw sewage, Francis made his way through Varginha, wading into the cheering crowds, kissing residents young and old.

"No one can remain insensitive to the inequalities that persist in the world," Francis told a crowd of thousands who braved rain to stand in a muddy football field to welcome him.

"No amount of peace-building will be able to last, nor will harmony and happiness be attained in a society that ignores, pushes to the margins or excludes a part of itself."

The visit came hours before the Pope presided over the opening of World Youth Day at Rio's Copacabana beach.

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