Pope Francis joined two million young pilgrims in a prayer vigil on Rio’s Copacabana beach late Saturday, voicing support for youths protesting for change.
“The young people in the street are the ones who want to be actors of change. Please don’t let others be actors of change,” he urged young Roman Catholics.
He made the remarks in a country where young people spearheaded nationwide street protests by more than one million Brazilians last month demanding better public services and an end to corruption.
Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said two million people turned up for the vigil, which marked the third night in a row that the charismatic Argentine managed to draw mammoth crowds on the Copacabana beach front.
Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes said he expected up to three million people to attend Sunday’s mass that will closed the pope’s week-long visit to the world’s most populous Catholic country.
Earlier the 76 year-old pontiff exhorted the Catholic clergy to “seek and serve Christ” in the world’s slums, and reminded Brazil’s elite to confront social turmoil with “constructive dialogue.”
“Constructive dialogue... (is) essential for facing the present moment,” Francis told political, religious and civil society leaders assembled in Rio’s Municipal Theater.
“Between selfish indifference and violent protest there is always another possible option: that of dialogue,” he said.
After the speech Francis hugged several Amazon natives with pierced noses, body paint and straw skirts who were at the event.
One of them, Ubirai Pataxo, removed his headgear and handed it to the pope, who immediately put it on his head as photographers snapped pictures.
“This headdress is a protection amulet which links the spirit and the Earth. There is no better person than the pope to receive it,” he told reporters.
“I am deeply honored. We are all Catholic and the pope is a spiritual leader for all peoples,” Pataxo said.
Indigenous people represent one percent of Brazil’s 194 million people and occupy 12 percent of the national territory, mainly in the Amazon.
Later at the vigil, one of the highlights of World Youth Day, a Catholic fest that wraps up Sunday, Francis told the crowd: “Here in Brazil, as in other countries, soccer is a national passion.”
“Now, what do players do when they are asked to join a team? They have to train, and to train a lot. The same is true of our lives as the Lord’s disciples,” said the pope, a fan of Buenos Aires club San Lorenzo.
“Jesus offers us something bigger than the World Cup,” the 76-year-old pontiff said. “You are the athletes of Christ.”
The Vatican has been alarmed by the growing strength of Evangelical Protestant churches in Brazil coupled and by the spread of secularism.
Francis called for a “church able to dialogue with those disciples who, having left Jerusalem behind, are wandering aimlessly, alone, with their own disappointment -- disillusioned by a Christianity now considered barren, fruitless soil.”
He used a mass to challenge priests to bring the message of the Gospel to the world’s slums.
“It is in the favelas... that we must go to seek and serve Christ,” he told thousands of bishops, priests and seminarians from around the world gathered for a mass at Rio’s St. Sebastian Cathedral.
“We cannot keep ourselves shut up in parishes, in our communities, when so many people are waiting for the Gospel,” he said.
Francis, wearing a white overcoat because of the cold, rainy weather, rode in his open-sided Popemobile, waving and blessing the faithful lining up the avenue along the Copacabana beachfront.
“We are ready to pass the night praying,” said James Ramos, a 35-year-old Australian as he awaited Sunday’s mass that will also wrap up World Youth Day.
Separately, a group of about 100 activists staged a “Slut Walk” in support of women’s rights and a secular state.
“Less bible, more orgasm,” said Gabriel Rodrigues, an 18-year-old student.