RIO DE JANEIRO — An estimated 3 million people poured onto Rio's Copacabana beach on Sunday for the final Mass of Pope Francis' historic trip to his home continent, cheering the first Latin American pope in one of the biggest turnouts for a papal Mass in recent history.
Speaking from a white stage and looking out over the enormous crowd, Francis urged young Catholics to go out and spread their faith ''to the fringes of society, even to those who seem farthest away, most indifferent.
''The church needs you, your enthusiasm, your creativity, and the joy that is so characteristic of you!'' he said to applause in his final homily of World Youth Day.
The pope's trip, which ended when he took off for Rome on Sunday night, was hailed as a great success by clergy, pilgrims, and everyday Brazilians. The pope's nonstop agenda was followed live on television for all seven days. His good nature and modesty clearly charmed the nation that has more Catholics than any other.
''This trip was a success. It was great to see the pope on his continent, in his house, speaking his language every day,'' said the Rev. Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman. ''It's been a great experience to see this pope being even more spontaneous in his own house . . . so comfortable in what he was doing.''
Nearly the entire 2.5 mile-crescent of Copacabana's beach overflowed with flag-waving faithful, some of them taking an early morning dip in the Atlantic and others tossing T-shirts, flags, and soccer jerseys into the pontiff's open-sided car as he drove by.
Francis greeted the crowd, kissing babies, taking a sip of tea handed to him, and catching gifts.
Even the normally stern-faced Vatican bodyguards let smiles slip as they jogged alongside Francis' car, caught up in the enthusiasm of the crowd.
Many of the youngsters on hand for the Mass spent the night on the beach, an all-night slumber party to end the Catholic youth fest, with pilgrims wrapped in flags and sleeping bags to ward off the cold. They danced, prayed, and sang — and waited in long lines in front of the portable bathrooms along the beachfront.
The Vatican said more than 3 million people were on hand for the Mass, based on information from World Youth Day organizers and local authorities who estimated two-thirds were from outside Rio. That was far higher than the 1 million at the last World Youth Day in Madrid in 2011 or the 850,000 at Toronto's 2002 concluding Mass.
Only Pope John Paul II's Mass during his 1995 visit to Manila, the capital of the Philippines, topped Rio's numbers, with an estimated 5 million people taking part.