'Action' pope returns to streets of Rio

Pope Francis took his high-octane mission to "shake up" Catholic faith back to the streets of Brazil Friday, greeting throngs of pilgrims, meeting convicts and hearing youngsters confess their sins.

Latin America's first pontiff rode his open-top popemobile again on his fifth day in Rio de Janeiro, saluting and blowing kisses to thousands who came out to cheer him on.

"I feel overwhelmed like I want to cry," said Barbara Perpetuo, 23, a local engineering student among the pilgrims who have gathered from around the globe to see Francis during World Youth Day, a weeklong gathering of young Catholics.

The 76-year-old Argentine, who has championed the cause of the poor, was taken to the palace of the Rio archdiocese, where he met privately with a group of convicts.

His desire to meet the faithful face to face took him to a park where he heard three Brazilians, a Venezuelan and an Italian confess their sins.

"I was told that it was God who wanted me with Pope Francis and when he came I couldn't believe it," said Estefani Lescano, the 21-year-old Venezuelan student who was among 300,000 pilgrims picked at random to meet the pontiff.

"I told him that he should visit my country because we need him. He told me that Venezuelans have no sins," Lescano said, refusing to reveal what she confessed during her five minutes with the top Catholic.

The pope resumed his hectic schedule hours after leading a massive ceremony with 1.5 million young believers who braved wind and rain to see him on the beach of Copacabana.

"What an unforgettable welcome in Copacabana. May God bless you all!" he said in a tweet early Friday.

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 have grown in size.

Addressing thousands of fellow Argentines in Rio's cone-shaped cathedral on Thursday, the pope urged young Catholics to "shake up" the church.

He also hammered home his message that clergymen must go out and take the words of the Gospel to the people.

The pope put his message into practice Thursday when he visited one of Rio's notorious favelas, including the home of a slum dweller.

He also used the background of the shantytown to wade into Brazil's tense political and social debate, urging people to persevere against corruption and defend the less fortunate.

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

Later Friday, 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.

Organizers moved Sunday's final mass to Copacabana because the original site, a huge field outside Rio, was soaked. This forced the organizers 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.