RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Pope Francis is heading into the final hours of his first international trip riding a remarkable wave of popularity:
The pontiff drew a reported 3 million flag-waving, rosary-toting faithful to Rio’s Copacabana beach on Saturday for the final evening of World Youth Day.
By the time his open-sided car reached the stage for the vigil service Saturday night, the back seat was piled high with soccer jerseys, flags and flowers tossed to him by adoring pilgrims lining the beachfront route.
On the beach, pilgrims staked out their spots on the sand, preparing for an all-night slumber party ahead of the final Mass on Sunday. Many of those actually paying attention to the vigil had tears in their eyes, moved by Francis’ call for them to build up their church like his namesake, St. Francis of Assisi, was called to do.
The vigil capped a busy day for the pope in which he drove home a message he has emphasized throughout the week in speeches, homilies and off-the-cuff remarks: the need for Catholics, lay and religious, to shake up the status quo, get out of their stuffy sacristies and reach the faithful on the margins of society or risk losing them to rival churches.