RIO DE JANEIRO — Pope Francis set an action-packed Thursday in Rio de Janeiro, where he will bless the Olympic flag, visit a slum and address upward of 1 million young Roman Catholics on Copacabana beach.
The Argentine-born Francis also planned to meet with several thousand countrymen at a cathedral in what promised to be an emotional event as Latin America’s first pope continued his inaugural international trip as pontiff.
During his homily at a public Mass on Wednesday, Francis made a plea for Roman Catholics to shun materialism, then he met with drug addicts and denounced the “dealers of death” who fuel their suffering.
On his first full day of activities in Brazil, Francis traveled from one of the most important shrines in Latin America, Our Lady of Aparecida, to what he called a “shrine of human suffering” — a hospital in Rio that treats substance abusers.
Both encounters had a common theme that the humble pope has stressed during his young papacy: a denunciation of the “ephemeral idols” of money and power and a need for the Catholic Church to focus on the poor and outcasts of society.
Francis started Wednesday traveling to Aparecida, where thousands packed into the huge Basilica of the Shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida in a region of verdant fields between Rio and Sao Paolo. Tens of thousands more braved a cold rain outside to catch a glimpse of the pope returning to a shrine of great meaning to the continent and to Francis himself.
Before the Mass, Francis stood in silent prayer in front of the 15-inch statue of the Virgin of Aparecida, the “Black Mary,” his eyes tearing up as he breathed heavily. He later carried a replica of it in his arms, visibly moved at the gift he had been given. Francis has entrusted his papacy to the Virgin Mary and, like many Catholics in Latin America, places great importance in devotion to Mary.