RIO DE JANEIRO -- Frenzied crowds of Roman Catholics mobbed the car carrying Pope Francis yesterday as he returned to his home continent for the first time as pontiff, embarking on a seven-day visit meant to fan the fervor of the faithful around the globe.
During the pope's first minutes in Brazil, ecstatic believers swarmed around the closed Fiat when it was forced to stop by heavy traffic on the drive from the airport to an official opening ceremony in Rio's center. Security guards struggled to push the crowd back in scenes that at times looked alarming. A city official told Globo TV that the pope's driver turned into the wrong side of a boulevard and missed lanes that had been cleared.
Francis, 76, looked calm during the frenzy. He rolled down his car window, waving to the crowd and touching those who reached inside. At one point, a woman handed the pontiff a dark-haired baby, whom he kissed before handing back.
After finally making it past crowds and blocked traffic, Francis switched to an open-air popemobile to tour downtown Rio through mobs who screamed wildly as he waved and smiled. Many in the crowd looked stunned, some standing still, others sobbing loudly.
Idaclea Rangel, 73, was pressed up against a wall and choking out words through her tears. "I can't travel to Rome, but he came here to make my country better . . . and to deepen our faith," she said.
At the airport earlier, President Dilma Rousseff vigorously shook Francis' hand after he descended the stairs following a no-frills charter flight. The pope was handed bouquets of white and yellow flowers by two adolescent girls, each of whom he kissed on the cheek.
It was the first time the Argentine-born Francis returned to his home continent since his selection as pope in March.
During his stay, the pope will meet with legions of young Catholics converging for the church's World Youth Festival in Rio on the white sands of Copacabana.