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Pope's high energy Brazil tour sees him meet convicts

Pope Francis' mission to the downtrodden of Brazil takes him to meet convicts on Friday, a day after 1.5 million people gathered on Rio de Janeiro's seafront to see him speak.

world Updated: Jul 26, 2013 18:43 IST

Pope Francis' mission to the downtrodden of Brazil takes him to meet convicts on Friday, a day after 1.5 million people gathered on Rio de Janeiro's seafront to see him speak.

The 76-year-old Argentine, who has championed the cause of the poor, has seen the starkly contrasting images of life in the "Marvelous City" during the first four days of his landmark trip.

He visited a notoriously dangerous slum on Thursday before heading to the glitzy Copacabana beachfront for a massive ceremony with young Catholics in town for World Youth Day festivities.

"What an unforgettable welcome in Copacabana. May God bless you all! #Rio2013 #JMJ," the pope said in a tweet early on Friday.

After being treated to samba songs and dance, Pope Francis used the huge beach stage to repeat a theme of his weeklong visit, urging young Catholics to shun materialism and put Jesus Christ at the heart of their lives.

"Possessions, money and power can give a momentary thrill, the illusion of being happy, but they end up possessing us and making us always want to have more, never satisfied," he said.

Vatican officials have made no secret of the fact that the pope's first trip abroad since his election aims to re-energize followers. Brazil remains the world's biggest Catholic country, but the flock has shrunk while Evangelical churches grow.

Thursday's massive beach ceremony came after the pope waded into Brazil's tense political and social debate over corruption and social injustice, which sparked massive protests last month.

"Dear young friends, you have a particular sensitivity towards injustice, but you are often disappointed by facts that speak of corruption on the part of people who put their own interests before the common good," he said.

"To you and to all, I repeat: never yield to discouragement, do not lose trust, do not allow your hope to be extinguished," he told thousands who had assembled on a muddy soccer field in the rain-drenched Varginha slum.

Brazil was rocked by the largest street demonstrations in two decades last month, when more than a million people mobilised to condemn corruption, poor public services and the cost of hosting the 2014 World Cup.

A poll released Thursday showed that the approval rating of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff's government plummeted more than 20 points to 31% in the wake of the protests.

Pope Francis will return to more religious activities on Friday, hearing young Catholics confess at the Quinta de Boa Vista park before having lunch with 12 young men and women from five continents.

He will then meet privately with five prison inmates, away from cameras that have followed him since he landed on Monday.

At the end of the day, the pontiff will again hop on his open-top jeep to drive along the crescent-shaped Copacabana beach and participate in a re-enactment of the 14 Stations of the Cross - scenes of Jesus carrying the cross to his crucifixion.

"The pope is showing incredible energy during this trip, like in Rome," Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said. "He doesn't even take advantage of the moments of rest. He's always in action."

The pope's weekend schedule was drastically changed due to the rain that has battered Rio state this week.

Organisers moved Sunday's final mass to Copacabana because the original site, a huge field outside Rio, was soaked. This forced the organisers to also cancel an all night vigil from Saturday to Sunday at the field in Guaratiba.

Workers had toiled for months to build a huge stage there, but the site that was dubbed "the field of faith" will remain empty this weekend.

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