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Half a million Catholics flock to Copacabana beach

Photo: AFP

Hundreds of thousands of young Catholics have gathered Wednesday on Copacabana beach as World Youth Day kicks off. Pope Francis will make a first appearance at the gathering on Thursday.

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The event begun on Tuesday with Musicians and dancers entertaining the youths, who braved a chilly drizzle. The beach, lined with a series of large monitors, was the site of an evening Mass by local priests and Vatican officials. Later in the week it will serve as an altar for two big appearances by Pope Francis.

By early this morning already hundreds of thousands of people had packed the beach. Rain clouds cleared in time and pilgrims from around the world waved flags, sang and prayed as the archbishop of Rio, Orani João Tempesta, led a mass to kick off the festivities in the country with the world's greatest number of Roman Catholics.

However the main attraction of the weeklong event will be two appearances by the Pope, where he will lead a huge mass.

After a rapturous welcome marking the start of the first Latin American pope’s Brazil visit, he took the day to rest yesterday. The Pope did, however, communicate with his followers by Twitter. On Tuesday, he posted: "Dear young friends, Christ has confidence in you and he entrusts his own mission to you: Go and make disciples!"

Shrine visit

Today the new Pope is also due to fly by helicopter to Aparecida, about 260 km (162 miles) from Rio, to visit the shrine of the Madonna of Aparecida, whom Catholics venerate as the patroness of Brazil. The Aparecida shrine was previously a hospital and slum once controlled by drug lords.

The Pope’s trip has also been hit by drama. On Monday his car detail took a wrong turn and was mobbed by local residents.

The pope’s trip has also been marred by clashes, with thousands protesting the $53 million cost of the visit. However, the grievances were generally directed towards the unpopular Brazilian government rather than the pope himself, with crowds chanting "Go away Cabral, go away Dilma".

Some 1.5 million people from 170 countries are expected to attend World Youth Day, which wraps up on Sunday.

(FRANCE 24 with wires)

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