RIO DE JANEIRO -- Pope Francis made an emotional plea yesterday for Roman Catholics to shun materialism in the first public Mass of his initial international trip as pontiff, then returned to Rio de Janeiro for a meeting with drug addicts, heavy in symbolism.
The session was meant to drive home the message that the humble pope has repeatedly delivered during his short papacy: that the church must focus on the poor, those who are suffering and the outcasts of society.
During his speech at the hospital, Francis was expected to stick with the theme of faith and sacrifice that he spoke about earlier in the day in his homily in Aparecida, a small town halfway between Rio and Sao Paulo that is home to one of the most important shrines in Latin America. The pontiff urged Catholics to resist the "ephemeral idols" of money, power and pleasure.
Thousands packed the huge Basilica of the Shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida in an agricultural region of verdant fields. Tens of thousands more braved a cold rain outside to catch a glimpse of the first pope from the Americas returning to a shrine of great meaning to the continent and to Francis.
Before the Mass, Francis stood in silent prayer in front of the 15-inch statue of the Virgin of Aparecida, the "Black Mary," his eyes tearing up as he breathed heavily. Later, the pope blessed the tens of thousands gathered outside the basilica and announced that he would return to Aparecida in 2017, the 300th anniversary of a fisherman finding the Black Mary statue in a nearby river.
Later in Rio, former drug addicts stood up and told their stories as the pontiff listened, seated just yards away. After the first former addict spoke, his voice full of nerves and emotion, Francis stood, crossed the gap between them and embraced the man, patting him on the back of his head with his right hand, and accepted a handmade card from the man.