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Brazilians throng streets to greet pope

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Pilgrims packed the streets of Rio de Janeiro to greet Pope Francis on Monday, joyfully swarming his car and chanting his name in a country recently rocked by social unrest.

The 76-year-old Argentine, making his first trip abroad since becoming the first Latin American pontiff, was surrounded by thousands of cheering faithful as he was driven through the Brazilian city.

But the first day of his visit was marred by violence when riot police used tear gas and water cannons to disperse hundreds of people protesting the cost of his visit outside the state governor's palace.

A news photographer was seen on the ground with his head bleeding.

The pope had just met with President Dilma Rousseff at the ornate palace where he urged young Catholics to spread the words of Jesus.

For her part, the Brazilian leader acknowledged the social discontent, saying her country's youth fought for "a new society."

After massive protests over lagging public services and corruption that regularly ended in violence in recent weeks, authorities wanted to ensure an incident-free visit for the pontiff.

Despite the heavy security, with 30,000 soldiers and police mobilized, several people were able to stop the pope's car convoy and touch him through his open window. The pope shook hands and kissed babies.

The army meanwhile said soldiers discovered an explosive device during a training session on Sunday in a bathroom at the Shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida in Sao Paulo state, which the pope will visit on Wednesday.

The homemade device was destroyed and authorities said it was nowhere near the area where the pope or pilgrims will congregate.

Pope Francis came to Brazil, an emerging power with a shrinking Catholic flock, to promote his vision of a more humble church and to attend World Youth Day, a week-long event drawing more than one million young Catholics.

Excitement about his first overseas visit brought thousands of people into the streets, chanting "long live the pope," singing and waving the flags of Argentina and other countries.

The pope, first in a small four-door car and then an open-top jeep, waved at the faithful after deciding to leave his armored "Popemobile" behind, a decision that unnerved local authorities.

"I have learned that, to gain access to the Brazilian people, it is necessary to pass through its great heart; so let me knock gently at this door," Francis said at the governor's palace.

"I ask permission to come in and spend this week with you. I have neither silver nor gold, but I bring with me the most precious thing given to me: Jesus Christ!"

The pope, who will lead an open-air sermon on Copacabana beach on Thursday, urged young Catholics to "go and make disciples of all nations."

The Church in Brazil, the world's biggest Catholic country, has seen its following dwindle in the face of growing Evangelical congregations and spreading secularism.

More than 90 percent of Brazilians identified as Catholic in 1970, according to the census.

But a poll by Datafolha Institute on Sunday showed just 57 percent now call themselves Catholic, while 28 percent say they are Pentecostal or non-Pentecostal Evangelicals.

"We hope the pope will bring us the renewal of faith and enthusiasm," said Renzo Cicroni, a 23-year-old Argentine who joined the crowds cheering the pontiff.

"To see all these young people together, it re-energizes us."

Anaia Betarte, a 17-year-old from Uruguay, said she came to "see change, something new, something refreshing."

The pope's message of a "poor Church for the poor," may play well in Brazil, which is now an economic powerhouse but still has millions living in shantytowns like the favelas rising on Rio's hillsides.

Speaking to reporters on the papal plane, Pope Francis warned against marginalizing the young and the elderly.

"The global crisis has brought nothing good to young people. I saw the data on youth unemployed last week. We run the risk of having a generation without work," said Francis, who carried his own luggage onto the plane, in keeping with his trademark simplicity.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130723/brazilians-throng-streets-greet-pope