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Pope Francis welcomed by enthusiastic crowds in Rio

Enthusiastic crowds of Roman Catholics have greeted Pope Francis as he arrived in Rio de Janeiro. The pontiff will spend a week in Brazil where he is to attend the World Youth Festival.

The crowds of well-wishers were so large that it was with some difficulty the Fiat sent to collect Pope Francis drove from the airport to an official ceremony in the city center.

Francis, who has made a point of shunning some of the luxurious pomp and trappings of the office, appeared much more relaxed than the security guards assigned to keep him safe. This was most evident when his driver turned into the wrong side of a boulevard, forcing the car to a stop. While the pope waved to crowd with his car window down, the security officers battled to hold back throngs of people gathered along the route.

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Pope Francis arrives in Brazil

In a further sign of the pope's determination to carry out his duties in a less lavish manner than some of his predecessors, he had arrived in Brazil on an Italian commercial airliner and made a point of carrying his own luggage. He was met as he descended on the steps from the Alitalia jet by Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff.

After arriving in the city center, the 76-year-old Francis left the Fiat for an open popemobile, in which he toured through some of Rio's main streets, all of which were packed with well-wishers.

During the official welcoming ceremony, the pope, who was elected to the post in March, said he had traveled to Rio to meet young people from all over the world.

"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,'" he said.

The pope is in Rio mainly to preside over the Roman Catholic Church's World Youth Festival. More than one million young Roman Catholics are expected to attend the event, which is to be held on the white sands of Rio's Copacabana beach.

The pope's visit, though, is not without controversy. Police used tear gas and water cannon to disperse hundreds of people who had gathered to protest against the cost of the pope's visit to the Brazilian taxpayer.

Meanwhile, late on Monday a Vatican official confirmed that police had found and destroyed a small explosive device near a church that the pope is to visit on Wednesday. However, there was no indication that the homemade bomb had been meant to target the pontiff.

pfd/jr (AFP, AP, Reuters)

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