RIO DE JANEIRO (AFP) – Hundreds of thousands of young Catholics packed Copacabana beach for the start of a weeklong religious event in Rio de Janeiro despite a breakdown in the city’s metro system which forced throngs of pilgrims to cram into buses, find taxis or walk.
Despite the traffic trouble and some rain drops, the Vatican said 560,000 pilgrims from around the world made it to the beach, singing, waving flags and praying as Rio Archbishop Orani Tempesta led a mass to kick off World Youth Day in the country with the world’s greatest number of Roman Catholics.
Pope Francis, was taking the day off one day after a rapturous welcome through the streets of the tropical city, but he sent greetings to his flock via Twitter.
“Dear young friends, Christ has confidence in you and he entrusts his own mission to you: Go and make disciples!” he tweeted.
“The organization was a bit messy, but we’re figuring things out little by little,” said Fernando Cila, a 22-year-old from Buenos Aires, the pope’s home city.
The first pope from Latin America will travel to the Shrine of Our Lady Aparecida in neighboring Sao Paulo state on Wednesday and then lead a mass on Copacabana on Thursday.
The city’s two subway lines were down for two hours after a power cable broke, a Rio Metro statement said.
The underground system was the main way for people to get from downtown to the beach, where tens of thousands were gathering for a mass to be led by the archbishop of Rio.
The metro breakdown came as local authorities grappled with security lapses during the pope’s arrival on Monday, when crowds were able to approach his car and touch the 76-year-old Argentine pontiff despite massive security.
Rio’s organization of World Youth Day and the visit of Pope Francis are seen as a test for its ability to host World Cup games next year and the Olympic Games in 2016.
Last month’s Confederations Cup, an international soccer tournament seen as a dry run for the World Cup, was marked by massive protests over the country’s poor public services, corruption and the billions spent on hosting sporting events.