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Pope addresses Catholic youths at Copacabana beach in Brazil

Pope Francis has presided over a procession re-enacting Christ's crucifixion at Rio's Copacabana beach. Latin America's first pope addressed young Catholics during the second night of religious ceremonies.

Copacabana beach, which usually plays host to bikini-clad bathers and rowdy revellers, was staged to show the Way of the Cross on Friday, complete with massive stage sets, a full orchestra and a cast of hundreds acting out a modern version of the biblical story.

The pope was greeted by hundreds of thousands of people on the beach for the second night of religious ceremonies marking World Youth Day, a week-long gathering of young Catholics.

In response to violent protests that broke out in Brazil last month against rampant corruption and inefficiencies in the government, the Argentine pontiff reached out to straying Catholic youths during the event.

"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," he said.

In a veiled reference to the pedophilia and financial scandals that have rocked the Vatican in recent years, 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.”

The pope's first trip abroad since his election in March is aimed to re-energize followers. Brazil remains the world's biggest Catholic country, but the number of Catholics has shrunk while Evangelicals gain ground.

During the event, about 200 protesters angry at Rio state Governor Sergio Cabral marched to within meters (yards) of the event.

Earlier in the day, the pope met convicts, heard confessions from five young believers and had lunch with a dozen others.

hc/mr (AFP, AP)