In one of the biggest masses in history, 3 million people poured onto Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro on Sunday to hear Pope Francis deliver his final homily of World Youth Day. "The church needs you, your enthusiasm, your creativity and the joy that is so characteristic of you!" he said.
The down-to-earth pope kissed babies, blessed followers and encouraged service during his week-long visit to the country with more Catholics than any other. (He also raised eyebrows on his flight home, when he said he wouldn’t judge a gay person as long as he “searches for the Lord and has good will.”)
Copacabana beach, 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) long, has seen a lot of traffic before, but not this much. On normal days, pedestrians stroll along the beach’s famous mosaic sidewalks and stop in at high-rise hotels for refreshing beverages before heading back out to blue skies and white sand. Rio’s famous steep, green hillsides rise behind it, and the beach’s entire length is visible from nearby Sugarloaf Mountain.
Catholicism aside, this is typically a hub of hedonism in a city known for it. The beach’s nightclubs are famous around the world, as are the itty-bitty bikinis. It’s also the site of a giant New Year’s Eve celebration and concert every year.
Sports fans will get a closer look during the 2016 Olympic Summer Games, where the Copacabana area will be an official venue for a few events — including, not surprisingly, beach volleyball.