Amid Security Concerns, Adoring Crowd Greets Pope Francis in Rio

Pope Francis met with wildly enthusiastic crowds during the first day of his visit to Brazil for World Youth Day 2013.

The charismatic and spontaneous pontiff, known for his love of the poor and disabled, has created a dilemma for Brazilian security forces. They had to lead the pope’s motorcade through various detours to deal with the overwhelming crowds in the streets.

On July 21, military police in Sao Paulo discovered a homemade explosive in a bathroom garage of the shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida, which the pope will visit on Wednesday.

John Allen Jr., writing at National Catholic Reporter, observed that a small group of protestors outside the palace where Pope Francis met Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff was repelled by police with tear gas as they voiced anger toward the Brazilian government over a list of grievances.

As Allen writes, however, the security concerns may come from a variety of sources:

In the end, however, the pope's real worries may come from his admirers rather than his detractors, as the surging crowds witnessed Monday, coupled with Francis' obvious determination not to be separated from them, have raised fears that things may spin out of control -- especially toward the end of the week, when the finale of the July 23-28 World Youth Day is set to draw as many as 2 million people.

Francis’ desire to be close to the people has seemed to render him rather fearless, as he is seen as enjoying himself, waving enthusiastically to people through the window of his car, even as police concern themselves that the adoring crowds might overrun the papal motorcade.

The pope’s visible joy at personal interactions with people along his route, coupled with his simplicity and humility, have made him popular.

Catholic News Agency reports that Francis carried his own black bag onto the plane, an Alitalia Airbus 330, when he left from Rome’s Flumicino Airport on July 22. In addition, despite the threat of security problems, the pope chose not to use the armored popemobile, opting instead for the open-air jeep in which he travels around St. Peter’s Square at each Wednesday audience.

Father Federico Lombardi, the pope’s press secretary, confirmed, "Obviously, he wants direct contact with people and does not want to militarize the situation."

Lombardi added that, for those traveling with the pope, it is an “extraordinary experience” of affection for him.


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