Three million see Pope on Rio beach
Pope Francis has drawn a reported three million flag-waving, rosary-toting faithful to Rio's Copacabana beach for the final event of his first overseas trip.
He led the final evening of World Youth Day just hours after he chastised the Brazilian church for failing to stem the "exodus" of Catholics to evangelical congregations.
Francis headed into the final hours of his first international trip riding a remarkable wave of popularity. By the time his open-sided car reached the stage for the vigil service on Saturday night, the back seat was piled high with football shirts, flags and flowers tossed to him by adoring pilgrims lining the beachfront route.
On the beach, pilgrims staked out their spots on the sand, lounged and snacked, preparing for an all-night party ahead of the final Mass on Sunday. Many of those actually paying attention to the vigil had tears in their eyes, moved by Francis's call for them to build up their church like his namesake, St Francis of Assisi, was called to do.
"Jesus offers us something bigger than the World Cup!" Francis said, drawing cheers from the crowd in this football-mad nation.
The vigil capped a busy day for the pope in which he drove home a message he has emphasised throughout the week in speeches, homilies and off-the-cuff remarks: the need for Catholics, lay and religious, to shake up the status quo, get out of their stuffy sacristies and reach the faithful on the margins of society or risk losing them to rival churches.
In the longest and most important speech of his four-month pontificate, Francis took a direct swipe at the "intellectual" message of the church that so characterised the pontificate of his predecessor, Benedict XVI. Speaking to Brazil's bishops, he said ordinary Catholics simply do not understand such lofty ideas and need to hear the simpler message of love, forgiveness and mercy that is at the core of the Catholic faith.
"At times we lose people because they don't understand what we are saying, because we have forgotten the language of simplicity and import an intellectualism foreign to our people," he said. "Without the grammar of simplicity, the church loses the very conditions which make it possible to fish for God in the deep waters of his mystery."
In a speech outlining the kind of church he wants, Francis asked bishops to reflect on why hundreds of thousands of Catholics have left the church for Protestant and Pentecostal congregations that have grown exponentially in recent decades in Brazil, particularly in its slums or favelas, where their charismatic message and nuts-and-bolts advice is welcomed by the poor.
Local media, citing information from the mayor's office, said three million people were on hand for the vigil.