RIO DE JANEIRO, (Reuters) – Pope Francis left Brazil yesterday with Rio still pulsating with excitement after a historic beachfront Mass for more than 3 million people in which he challenged young people to build a new world based on tolerance and love.
Rio’s famed Copacabana beach, usually the venue for scantily-clad sun-seekers and revelry, became a massive Catholic campground for the closing event of a world youth festival.
The festive crowd included pilgrims from 170 nations who spent the night on the beach and locals who poured out of homes and buses to see the Argentine pope on his first trip abroad since his election in March.
“Through your joyful witness and service, help to build a civilization of love. Show, by your life, that it is worth giving your time and talents to attain high ideals,” Francis said at the Rio airport before he departed for Rome.
Pleased Vatican officials said the massive attendance showed the vitality of the Catholic Church, which is hoping that the charismatic pope will re-energize the institution at a time when rival denominations, secularism and distaste over sexual and financial scandals has lost it followers.
Aerial television footage showed the sand and sidewalks of Copacabana blanketed with people for several kilometres along the crescent-shaped shoreline.
The throng of people, many in the green and yellow Brazilian colors, gave Francis the kind of ecstatic welcome that he has received all through his trip to his home continent.
They shouted and sang as he was driven through the crowd in an open-sided popemobile, stopping often to kiss babies offered to him by their mothers on the shoreline most famous for its bars and nightclubs and hedonist spirit.
His message to the young people in Rio for the week-long World Youth Day festivities was serious: they should not make their time in Rio a one-time experience.
In his sermon, delivered from a huge white stage at the beach’s northern tip, he said they should return to their home countries ready to work for social change.