RIO DE JANEIRO - Agence France-Presse
A crowd cheer as Pope Francis rides in his popemobile in Rio, Brazil. AP photo
Brazil scrambled July 23 to beef up security around Pope Francis after he was mobbed by adulating crowds upon his arrival on a landmark visit to the country.
The fervor and, at times, chaos that surrounded the pontiff on July 22 reverberated among the organizers of the trip, which began with a raucous reception from throngs of cheering pilgrims who swarmed his car.
Despite heightened security in Rio de Janeiro for Latin America’s first pope, legions of Roman Catholics were able to stop his convoy and reach their hands inside his car’s open window.
The 76-year-old Argentine appeared delighted by the frenzied crowd as he waved and smiled while bodyguards struggled to keep people at bay. His secretary later admitted being terrified.
The pontiff’s visit comes as the country grapples with weeks of violent anti-government protests. The highlight of his trip to the world’s most populous Catholic country will be World Youth Day, a five-day event that kicked off July 23.
The pontiff’s trip, however, has been overshadowed by persistent demonstrations in the country over political corruption and a failure to provide basic services. Police on July 22 also used tear gas and water cannon on hundreds of protesters demonstrating against the $53 million spent on the pope’s visit.
The clashes came after the pope met with President Dilma Rousseff at the Rio state governor’s palace. A policeman said they charged at demonstrators after someone threw a Molotov cocktail. Five people were detained and an Agence France-Presse photographer clubbed on the head by police required three stitches. Further public demonstrations are planned for July 26.