The arrival of Pope Francis in Rio de Janeiro on Monday – his first visit abroad since his election in March – was filled with confusion, security breaches and tense moments as thousands of Brazilians swarmed the pontiff’s vehicle to greet him as it entered the center of the city.
Jorge Mario Bergoglio refused to use the traditional, armored Popemobile, instead opting for a small Fiat Idea with a reduced number of bodyguards to escort him as he made his way to the governor’s palace.
That, plus the fact that the driver lost his way and drove into a mass gathering of well-wishers, produced heightened moments of tension as thousands of people swarmed the vehicle forcing it to a full halt. The pope’s Vatican security detail had to literally push back the crowds, who were trying to touch the pontiff.
In the end, the pope and his staff flew by helicopter to the Guanabara Palace, the seat of the Rio de Janeiro state government – although they did end up arriving 50 minutes late.
Flanked by President Dilma Rousseff and local officials, Pope Francis reminded young Brazilians of the social problems they are facing.
“You often say children are the apple of our eyes. How beautiful this expression of Brazilian wisdom is, comparing youth with the opening through which light enters into us, giving us the miracle of sight,” he said.
We risk having a generation that hasn't held a job. Personal dignity comes from working, from earning your daily bread."
“So my hope is that this week, each of us is open to challenge by this provocative question: what would become of us if we did not care for our eyes? How would we be able to move forward?”
The pope has been paying close attention to the waves of protests that have engulfed the country since early June over the high cost of living, social conditions and rampant public corruption. More than one million Brazilians have taken to the streets to demonstrate in different cities.
On his way to Rio, the 76-year-old Argentinean pontiff told reporters on board his plane that he intended to address the concerns facing Brazilians as well as address the young people who are planning to turn out for the biennial World Youth Day gathering.
“I ask everyone to show consideration towards each other and, if possible, the sympathy needed to establish friendly dialogue,” he said shortly after arriving.
The pope’s visit to Brazil is seen as an historic one rather than a religious trip. Pope Francis, according to Vatican officials, will use Brazil – home to 130 million Catholics – to launch his crusade in trying to convince governments around the world that they must do more to dismantle social inequalities and policies of exclusion, especially in nations with vast resources. An emerging power, Brazil is also one of the leading countries in the world with the most social inequalities.
The visit parallels the previous papal trip in 1979 by Karol Wojtyla, the first pontiff to emerge from a communist nation. Back then John Paul II used his papacy to preach against the evils of communism, which curtailed personal liberties and violated human rights in many countries.
Pope Francis is expected to focus his papacy on ministering to the poor and push world governments for better social welfare. Brazilian officials hope that his message of solidarity with the poor will minimize the possibility of major protests during his visit.
Still the pontiff has been concerned about the rise in youth unemployment across the globe.
“I read last week about the percentage of young people without work,” he told reporters aboard the Alitalia Airbus 330 as it crossed the Atlantic. “We risk having a generation that hasn't held a job. Personal dignity comes from working, from earning your daily bread." the pope said. “Young people are in a crisis.”