RIO DE JANEIRO – Pope Francis joins young pilgrims in a prayer vigil on Rio’s Copacabana beach Saturday as he presses his drive to breathe new life into a struggling Catholic faith.
Hundreds of thousands of Catholics attending World Youth Day are set to walk nine kilometers across the city to reach the beach venue for the vigil.
There they will pray and spend the night before attending Sunday’s mass that will close the Catholic youth fest with the pope.
On Friday, the 76-year pontiff and some 1.5 million faithful that gathered to see him watched a somber re-enactment of the Stations of the Cross depicting scenes of a bloodied Jesus heading to his crucifixion.
Francis used the occasion to urge his flock not lose faith over church failings, and said he understood the frustration of Brazilians with political corruption.
Last month, young Brazilians spearheaded massive street demonstrations against political corruption, to demand better public services, and to protest the high cost of hosting next year’s World Cup.
“On the cross, Jesus is united with so many young people who have lost faith in political institutions, because they see in them only selfishness and corruption,” the pope said.
“He unites himself with those young people who have lost faith in the Church, or even in God because of the incoherence of Christians and ministers of the Gospel,” Francis said, in a veiled reference to the pedophilia and financial scandals that have rocked the Vatican in recent years.
The Vatican is also alarmed by the growing strength of Evangelical Protestant churches in Brazil, the world most populous Catholic country, and the spread of secularism.
On Saturday, Francis begins the day by attending a mass with bishops, priests and seminarians before huddling with the Brazilian elite at the historic Theatro Municipal.
When he opened the visit on Monday, Francis called for a dialogue “among friends” between the Church and the country’s politicians.
He could use the meeting to review some of the political, economic and social challenges facing Latin America’s dominant power, including the recent social unrest, narcotrafficking and the fight against poverty.
Francis is then scheduled to have lunch with Brazilian cardinals and bishops as well as with his entourage.
The evening vigil and Sunday’s closing mass were supposed to be held in a field in neighboring Guaratiba, but rain turned the field into a mud pit, prompting authorities to move the events.
The pope’s visit this week has been plagued by a series of embarrassing logistical missteps.
When Francis arrived on Monday, his small Fiat was trapped by crowds of adoring pilgrims when it took a wrong turn.
The huge influx of visitors meant that the city’s transport system was overwhelmed, with the metro breaking down for two hours on Tuesday.
Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes Friday took responsibility for the embarrassing logistical woes that come a year before the city is to host the World Cup, followed by the summer Olympics two years later.
“If you ask me to grade the organization of World Youth Day, I would say we are closer to zero than to 10,” Paes told CBN radio while quickly giving the pope and residents “a 10.”
“Blame it on me, but don’t destroy the image of our city,” he said.