Pope star power draws 1.5M to Rio
Pope Francis on Thursday showed that his message of renewed faith in Jesus Christ can compete with the Rolling Stones and their famous “Sympathy for the Devil.”
Seven years after the rock legends lured throngs to Copacabana for an epic concert, organizers of a Catholic youth event say Pope Francis attracted 1.5 million to Rio de Janeiro’s legendary beach.
Apart from New Year’s fireworks that attract countless revelers to the crescent moon-shaped beach every year, nobody had brought so many people to Copacabana until Mick Jagger and Keith Richards came to town.
On Feb. 18, 2006, the British superstars who sold millions of records drew the biggest crowd of their storied career.
Various estimates say between one million and 1.7 million people flooded the beach to see the bad boys of rock ’n’ roll for their “Bigger Band” tour.
But 76-year-old Pope Francis showed that he commands just as much star power as Sir Mick, who turns 70 on Friday.
Crowds shrieked and chanted the Pope’s name as his jeep with open sides and a glass top took him to a giant white stage on the beach.
The Pope, in his resplendent white robe, stood on a giant white stage with a towering cross illuminated by a blue light.
Large screens and speakers beamed his ceremony to people standing at the other end of the beach.
Apart from the large stages and endless crowds, the comparison ends there.
The Pope stood soberly on a podium while Jagger and the Stones danced the night away.
The Pontiff is staying in a quiet hillside residence, while the Stones spent their nights in the beachfront Copacabana Palace hotel.
Pope Francis’ killer pace is wearing out his aides.
The 76-year-old Argentine Jesuit, who lost most of one lung following an infection in his youth, has been acting like a man half his age during his first international trip as Pope, adding in events at the last minute to his already full schedule and gamely going with the flow after heavy rains forced major changes in the World Youth Day agenda.
His spokesperson, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, noted on Thursday that such vigorous activity has been the norm at the Vatican ever since Francis came to town, saying the Vatican’s usually staid bureaucrats were getting “stressed out” by his pace—and that that was a good thing.
But Lombardi quipped: “I’m happy we’re halfway through because if it were any longer I’d be destroyed.”
Visit to another continent
Francis added two unscheduled events on Thursday to an already full day: a morning Mass with some 300 seminarians from the region, and then a meeting at Rio’s cathedral with some 30,000 Argentine pilgrims.
Asked when Francis would actually return to his home country, Lombardi revealed that there were no plans for a trip to Argentina in 2014 as had been widely expected.
Rather, he said, the Pope planned to visit another continent given he had already been to Brazil in 2013 and, as he announced somewhat unexpectedly on Wednesday, he would be returning in 2017 to mark the 300th anniversary of the discovery of the statue of the Virgin of Aparecida, Brazil’s patron saint.
Lombardi didn’t say which continent might get a papal visit in 2014, but mentioned Africa, Asia or the Holy Land as possibilities.
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