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Pope lifts spirits of Rio slum, youths

RIO DE JANEIRO — Pope Francis, dubbed the “slum pope” for his work with the poor, received a rapturous welcome Thursday from one of Rio’s most violent shantytowns and demanded that the wealthy end injustices that have left the poor on society’s margins. He received an even more frenzied welcome as he opened a rain-soaked World Youth Day in a far different setting: Rio’s upscale Copacabana Beach.

In between, he showed off some of his offbeat — almost rebellious — personality, telling pilgrims from his native Argentina that he wanted them to make trouble, shake things up in their dioceses, and make a “mess” by going out into the streets to spread the faith.

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“We knew that in Rio there would be great disorder, but I want trouble in the dioceses!” he said, speaking off the cuff Thursday 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!”

Amid the stench of sewage and residents’ shrieks, Francis made his way through the Varginha shantytown, in a region so violent it is known as the Gaza Strip. The Argentine seemed at home, wading into the cheering crowds, kissing residents young and old, telling them the Roman Catholic Church is on their side.

“No one can remain insensitive to the inequalities that persist in the world!” Francis, 76, told a crowd of thousands who braved a cold rain and stood in a muddy soccer field to welcome him. “No amount of peace-building will be able to last, nor will harmony and happiness be attained in a society that ignores, pushes to the margins, or excludes a part of itself.”

It was one of the highlights of Francis’s weeklong trip, his first as pope and one seemingly tailor-made for the first pontiff from the Americas. Later Thursday, he traveled in his open-sided car through a massive crowd in the pouring rain to a welcoming ceremony on Copacabana beach. It was his first official event with the hundreds of thousands of young people who have flocked to Rio for World Youth Day.

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