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Pope swarmed by crowds in Brazil

| Monday, July 22, 2013, 7:51 p.m.
Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff and Pope Francis visit upon his arrival at the international airport in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Monday, July 22, 2013, in his first trip as pontiff to Latin America. Francis, the 76-year-old Argentine who became the church's first pontiff from the Americas in March, returns to the embrace of Latin America to preside over the Roman Catholic Church's World Youth Day festival. (AP Photo/Jorge Saenz)
REUTERS
Pope Francis greets the crowd of faithful from his popemobile in downtown Rio de Janeiro, July 22, 2013. Pope Francis touched down in Rio de Janeiro on Monday, starting his first foreign trip as pontiff and a weeklong series of events expected to attract more than a million people to a gathering of young faithful in Brazil, home to the world's largest Roman Catholic population. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino (BRAZIL - Tags: RELIGION POLITICS)

RIO DE JANEIRO — Frenzied crowds of Roman Catholics mobbed the car carrying Pope Francis on Monday when he returned to his home continent for the first time as pontiff, embarking on a seven-day visit meant to fan the fervor of the faithful.

During his first minutes in Brazil, ecstatic believers swarmed around the closed Fiat several times when it was forced to stop by heavy traffic on the drive from the airport to an official ceremony in Rio's center. A few security guards struggled mightily to push the crowd back in scenes that at times looked alarming. A city official told Globo TV that the pope's driver turned into the wrong part of a boulevard and missed lanes that had been cleared.

Francis looked calm during the frenzy. He rolled down the window on the back passenger-side of the car where he was sitting, waving to the crowd and touching those who reached inside. At one point, a woman handed the pontiff a dark-haired baby, whom he kissed before handing it back.

After finally making it past crowds and blocked traffic, Francis switched to an open-air popemobile as he toured around the main streets in downtown Rio through mobs of people who screamed wildly as he waved and smiled. Many in the crowd looked stunned, with some standing still and others sobbing loudly.

Idaclea Rangel, a 73-year-old Catholic, was pressed up against a wall and choking out words through her tears. “I can't travel to Rome, but he came here to make my country better ... and to deepen our faith,” she said.

Anti-government protesters clashed with police outside a welcoming ceremony for Francis, but the anger was directed at Brazilian leaders and not the pontiff.

The Brazilian military said a homemade explosive device had been discovered at a shrine between Rio and Sao Paulo that the Pope is scheduled to visit later this week.

But when he arrived at the airport, he was met with smiles and cheers.Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff vigorously shook his hand after his no-frills charter flight. The pope was handed two bouquets of white and yellow flowers by two adolescent girls, each of whom he kissed on the cheek.

Reaching the end of the red carpet full of church leaders and secular dignitaries, the pope and the president paused to be serenaded by a choir of about three dozen young people singing an anthem linked to World Youth Day. The kids robustly yelled soccer-like chants in the pope's honor.

Francis said he had come “to meet young people from all over the world” attracted by the messages of Jesus. “They want to find a refuge in his embrace, right near his heart to hear his call clearly and powerfully: ‘Go and make disciples of all nations.' ”

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