RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil -- Pope Francis presided over one of the most solemn rites of the Catholic Church on Friday, a procession re-enacting Christ's crucifixion that received a Broadway-like treatment befitting its improbable location: Rio's hedonistic Copacabana beach.
Copacabana, which hosts Carnival and Rolling Stones concerts when bikini-clad beauties aren't sunbathing on its white sands, lived up to its reputation by staging a wildly theatrical and very Latin telling of the Way of the Cross, complete with huge stage sets, complex lighting, a full orchestra and a cast of hundreds acting out a modern version of the biblical story.
The procession is one of the mainstay events of World Youth Day, designed to remind young Catholics about the root of their faith and that Christ died to forgive their sins.
Francis tried to drive that home in remarks to the crowd, huddled in jackets on a chilly but finally rain-free night, telling them Jesus bears all the suffering of the world: of the families whose children fall prey to the "false paradise" of drugs; of the hungry "in a world where tons of food are thrown out each day;" of those who are persecuted for their religion, their beliefs "or simply for the colour of their skin."
"Jesus is united with so many young people who have lost faith in political institutions, because they see in them only selfishness and corruption," Francis said in another reference to the violent protests that broke out in Brazil last month against rampant corruption and inefficiencies in the government.
At the start, Francis greeted some special guests who had a place of honour on the stage: 35 cartoneros -- trash recyclers from Argentina whom he invited to participate in the Rio festival, continuing a relationship he started as archbishop of Buenos Aires. There, the former cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio would celebrate masses for the cartoneros, prostitutes and others on the margins of society.
After the Pope left Copacabana, a group of about 200 anti-government protesters arrived near the stage, the latest in hundreds of such demonstrations to hit Brazil since June. Police pushed back some of the protesters as they tried to gain access to the stage.
The Pope himself, who has long lashed out against political corruption, has lent encouragement to peaceful protests. The group of protesters began leaving the beach about an hour after arriving.
-- The Associated Press