RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Pope Francis celebrated Mass with his fellow Jesuits and heard confessions from young pilgrims in a Rio de Janeiro park on Friday ahead of one of the most solemn events of World Youth Day, a re-enactment of Christ's crucifixion held at ground zero of Rio's hedonistic life, Copacabana Beach.
Francis was also offering a noontime prayer and meeting with a group of juvenile detainees, a priority of his ever since his days as archbishop of Buenos Aires and an expression of his belief that the Catholic Church must reach out to the most marginalized and forgotten of society. Even now as pope, he calls a group of youths in a Buenos Aires detention center every two weeks just to keep in touch.
In the Rio park, a white tent was set up to receive the faithful for confession, with small makeshift confession booths off to the side. Five youths, chosen through a raffle, were selected to go to confession with Francis, the sacrament in which Catholics confess their sins and are forgiven.
"It was just five minutes, it followed the regular ritual of confession, but then Francis stayed and talked with us," said one of the five, Estefani Lescano, 21, a student from La Guaira, Venezuela. "It was all very personal. He told us that young people have the responsibility of keeping the church alive and spreading the word of Christ."
The sun finally came out on Friday, ending four days of rain that soaked pilgrims and forced the relocation of the festival's culminating Mass on Sunday. Instead, the Mass and the Saturday night vigil that precedes it will take place at Copacabana Beach rather than the mud pit that is the Guaratiba field, some 50 kilometers (30 miles) west of central Rio.
On Thursday, Francis showed off his rebellious side, urging young Catholics to shake up the church and make a "mess" in their dioceses by going out into the streets to spread the faith. It's a message he put into practice by visiting one of Rio's most violent slums and officially opening World Youth Day on a rain-soaked Copacabana Beach.
Francis was elected pope on a mandate to reform the church, and in four short months he has started doing just that: He has broken long-held Vatican rules on everything from where he lays his head at night to how saints are made. He has cast off his security detail to get close to his flock, and his first international foray as pope has shown the faithful appreciate the gesture.
Dubbed the "slum pope" for his work with the poor, Francis received a rapturous welcome in the Varginha shantytown on Thursday, part of a slum area of northern Rio so violent it's known as the Gaza Strip. The 76-year-old Argentine seemed entirely at home, wading into cheering crowds, kissing people young and old and telling them the Catholic Church is on their side.
The Varginha visit was one of the highlights of Francis' weeklong trip to Brazil, his first as pope.
The surprise, though, came during his encounter with Argentine pilgrims, scheduled at the last minute in yet another sign of how this spontaneous pope is shaking up the Vatican's staid and often stuffy protocol.
He told the thousands of youngsters, with an estimated 30,000 Argentines registered, to get out into the streets and spread their faith, saying a church that doesn't go out and preach simply becomes a civic or humanitarian group.
"I want to tell you something. What is it that I expect as a consequence of World Youth Day? I want a mess. We knew that in Rio there would be great disorder, but I want trouble in the dioceses!" he said, speaking off the cuff in his native Spanish. "I want to see the church get closer to the people. I want to get rid of clericalism, the mundane, this closing ourselves off within ourselves, in our parishes, schools or structures. Because these need to get out!"
Apparently realizing the radicalness of his message, he apologized in advance to the bishops at home.
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