RIO DE JANEIRO —
"There are no concerns for security. The concerns are that the enthusiasm is so great that it's difficult to respond to so much enthusiasm for the pope. But there is no fear and no concern," he told reporters.
Francis' weeklong schedule underscores his commitment to make his pontificate focus on the poor. He will walk through one of Rio's shantytowns, or favelas, and meet with juvenile offenders, an extension of his call for a more missionary church that goes to the peripheries to preach.
He will also pray at Aparecida, an indication of his strong Marian devotion that is shared in much of Latin America. And, in a rather incongruous matchup, he will preside over a procession re-enacting Christ's crucifixion on the beach at Copacabana, ground zero of Rio's Sin City.
Alex Augusto, a 22-year-old seminarian dressed in the bright green official T-shirt for pilgrims, said Monday that he and five friends made the journey from Brazil's Sao Paulo state to "show that contrary to popular belief, the church isn't only made up of older people, it's full of young people. We want to show the real image of the church."
Yet pilgrims like Augusto are the exception in Brazil and much of Latin America, a region with more faithful than any other in the world but where millions have left the church for rival Pentecostal evangelical churches or secularism.
A poll from the respected Datafolha group published Sunday in the newspaper Folha de S.Paulo said 57 percent of Brazilians age 16 and older call themselves Catholic, the lowest ever recorded. In 1980, when Pope John Paul II became the first pontiff to visit Brazil, 89 percent listed themselves as Catholics, according to that year's census.
Datafolha interviewed 3,758 people across Brazil on June 6-7 and said the poll had a margin error of 2 percentage points.