Updated: Friday, 26 July 2013 04:06 | By Agence France-Presse

In Rio slum, pope defends poor and slams corruption

Pope Francis waded into Brazil's ramshackle slums and onto the front line of its fierce national battle over poverty and corruption on Thursday, borne along by adoring crowds.


In Rio slum, pope defends poor and slams corruption

Pope Francis walks around the Varginha favela in Rio de Janeiro, during a visit to the slum on July 25, 2013.

The Argentine pontiff urged young Brazilians not to be discouraged in their fight for a fairer deal during a visit to a Rio shantytown.

On the fourth day of his visit to Brazil, he was confronted with starkly contrasting images of life in the dramatic tropical metropolis.

To the obvious discomfort of his security detail, the pope traveled to Rio's northern slums in an open-sided vehicle, before walking the streets, glad-handing crowds and kissing babies.

Meanwhile, thousands of young people were flocking to the city's iconic Copacabana beachfront, a much wealthier district, braving wind and rain and preparing to welcome the pope to World Youth Day ceremonies.

"Dear young friends, you have a particular sensitivity towards injustice, but you are often disappointed by facts that speak of corruption on the part of people who put their own interests before the common good," he said.

"To you and to all, I repeat: never yield to discouragement, do not lose trust, do not allow your hope to be extinguished. Situations can change, people can change," he told thousands gathered under pelting rain on a soccer field in the Varginha slum.

Brazil was rocked by huge street protests last month, when more than a million people took to the streets to condemn corruption, poor public services and the cost of hosting the 2014 World Cup.

The 1,000-resident Varginha slum is one of a dozen favelas where police have evicted drug gangs and restored security ahead of next year's World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games.

The pope, referring to the police drive to restore security in the city's violence-wracked favelas, said tough security tactics are not a solution to poverty.

In a nod to government policies that helped lift 40 million Brazilians out of extreme policies, he said: "I would like to encourage the efforts of Brazilian society is making to integrate all its members."

But he warned: "No amount of pacification 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."

"A society of that kind simply impoverishes itself. It loses something essential. Let us always remember this: only when we are able to share do we become truly rich. Everything that is shared is multiplied," he added.

The pope was greeted to the worn-down slum with banners, flags and two two-meter (six-foot) statues representing the pontiff and the venerated Black Virgin of Aparecida.

Protected by a watchful security team, he walked through the streets, stopping to chat with delighted residents and accepting a flower garland around his neck.

And the first Latin American pope entered the humble house of a seven-member family.

"This is going to change my life for the better," said 59-year-old Carmen Mendoca shortly before the pontiff dropped in. "I am waiting for him with cake and coffee."

He then went on to bless the altar of the tiny, 62-seat Sao Jeromino Emiliani church.

"I would have liked to knock on every door, to say good morning, to ask for a glass of water, to take a coffee, but not cachaca," he told the crowd, referring to the favored local liquor.

Its residents are divided roughly equally between Catholics and Evangelical protestants.

Vatican officials have made no secret of the fact that the pope's first trip abroad since his election aims to re-energize his flock, at a time when Evangelical churches are gaining strength in Brazil.

In the morning, the pope met with athletes, received the keys to the city and blessed the Olympic flag at the mayor's official mansion.

He later addressed thousands of fellow Argentines gathered in Rio's modernist, cone-shaped cathedral.

"I want the Church, parish colleges, the institutions to go into the streets," he told the pilgrims to World Youth Day, a major Catholic youth fest that opened here Tuesday.

In the evening, Pope Francis was to be officially welcomed by mammoth crowds of young Catholic pilgrims on famous Copacabana beach.

On Tuesday night, more than 500,0000 well-wishers flooded the beach for a mass led by Rio Archbishop Orani Tempesta, amid scenes of chaos as the city's transportation system was overwhelmed.

That came a day after crowds of pilgrims were able to stop the pope's convoy and reach their hands inside his car's open window, after the driver made a wrong turn as he made his way into Rio from the airport.

Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes said steps were being taken to avoid a repeat of such "deplorable incidents."

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