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26/07/2013 | Pope Francis visits Brazil favela

BBC

Pope Francis has visited a poor neighbourhood of the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro.The Pope addressed residents of the community of Varginha in the latest stop of his visit to Brazil, the first foreign trip of his papacy.

 

He blessed the new altar at a tiny church and hugged and kissed locals who crowded around him.

On the fourth day of his visit to Brazil, he will also greet the faithful at the World Youth Day in Copacabana.

'Forgotten community'

Security was tight in Varginha, which is part of the larger Manguinhos favela, one of the many hillside shanty towns which surround Rio.

Helicopters and sharpshooters were on patrol as Pope Francis visited the area while school children waved flags and held up balloons.

The excitement was palpable as he arrived and resident Antonieta de Souza Costa told Reuters news agency she thought the visit would "bring people back to the Catholic Church''.

The Brazilian government has made the "pacification" of these communities, once a byword for poverty, crime and drugs, one of its priorities.

Heavily armed police have moved into some of the more lawless favelas, including Varginha, to "flush out" the criminals and drug dealers who controlled large swathes of these communities.

According to official estimates, more than 20% of the population of the city live in favelas.

The Pope, who has called for a "Church of the poor" and who during his time as Archbishop of Buenos Aires regularly visited some of the poorest areas of that city, specifically asked for a favela to be included in his schedule.

Locals say the government's policy of sending large numbers of police to the area has gone some way towards calming the area, but not enough.

"There is no state presence; our community was forgotten for a long time. I hope with the Pope's visit we can have some improvement," carpenter Paulo Lima told NBC news.

After the favela visit, the Pope headed to Rio's cathedral for a meeting with tens of thousands of Argentine faithful.

During the event, he told pilgrims to take to the streets and "stir things up".

"I expect a messy World Youth Day. But I want things messy and stirred up in the congregations, I want you to take to the streets. I want the Church to take to the streets," he told the crowd.

'Passing idols'

The visit comes just a day after Pope Francis said it was key to tackle the roots of drug abuse rather than consider legalising them.

At a Mass at the shrine of Aparecida, he also warned tens of thousands of faithful against the "passing idols" of money, power and pleasure.

"How many dealers of death there are that follow the logic of power and money at any cost," he told the congregation.

Leaders in Colombia, Bolivia, Ecuador and others have spoken for softer stances on drugs policy. In Uruguay, a project decriminalising marijuana sale is set to be voted in Congress next week.

The highlight of the Pope's trip to Brazil is expected to be a prayer service on Rio's Copacabana Beach later on Thursday, which is likely to draw hundreds of thousands.

**At the scene

Julia Carneiro, BBC Brasil, Rio de Janeiro

Despite the heavy rain, the residents of the small Varginha favela were out early, with umbrellas and raincoats, anxiously waiting on the street where Pope Francis was to pass. People put up banners on their houses and gathered on rooftops for the best view. One resident set up a table with coffee and cups in front of his house hoping for the pontiff to stop by for a cafezinho.

Soon after he arrived, Pope Francis jumped out of his Popemobile and walked along a corridor of outstretched arms on the street, stopping to bless children and babies with a kiss on the forehead. There was heavy police presence in and around Varginha, a recently "pacified" shanty-town, part of an area previously referred to as the Gaza Strip because of drug violence.

As the Pope addressed the community from a stage set up on a muddy football pitch, the crowd cheered when he said no "pacification effort" would last if society ignored the poor and abandoned them to the margins - and appealed for the rich and the authorities to battle the inequality so evident in the city of Rio.

BBC (Reino Unido)

 


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