Pope Francis to meet young Brazilian convicts

Pope Francis greets pilgrims from the stage of the World Youth Day Welcome Feast on the Copacabana beachfront in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on Thursday, July 25, 2013. Pope Francis will meet young convicts and then return to Copacabana beach on Friday, J
Pope Francis greets pilgrims from the stage of the World Youth Day Welcome Feast on the Copacabana beachfront in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on Thursday, July 25, 2013. Pope Francis will meet young convicts and then return to Copacabana beach on Friday, July 26, 2013, where 1.5 million Catholics gathered on Rio de Janeiro's seafront to see him speak the previous night. -- PHOTO: AP

RIO DE JANEIRO (AFP) - Pope Francis will meet young convicts and then return to Copacabana beach on Friday where 1.5 million Catholics gathered on Rio de Janeiro's seafront to see him speak the previous night.

The 76-year-old Argentine, who has championed he cause of the poor, has seen the starkly contrasting images of life in the "Marvelous City" during the first four days of his landmark trip to Brazil.

He visited a notoriously dangerous slum on Thursday before heading to the glitzy beachfront of the tropical metropolis for a massive ceremony with young Catholics in town for World Youth Day festivities.

After being treated to samba songs and dance, Pope Francis used the huge beach stage to repeat a theme of his weeklong visit, urging young Catholics to shun the trappings of materialism and put Jesus Christ at the heart of their lives.

"Possessions, money and power can give a momentary thrill, the illusion of being happy, but they end up possessing us and making us always want to have more, never satisfied," he said.

Vatican officials have made no secret of the fact that the pope's first trip abroad since his election aims to re-energise followers - while Brazil remains the world's biggest Catholic country, the flock has shrunk while Evangelical churches grow.

Thursday's massive beach ceremony came after the pope waded into Brazil's tense political and social debate over corruption and social injustice that erupted in massive protests last month.

"Dear young friends, you have a particular sensitivity towards injustice, but you are often disappointed by facts that speak of corruption on the part of people who put their own interests before the common good," he said.

"To you and to all, I repeat: never yield to discouragement, do not lose trust, do not allow your hope to be extinguished," he told thousands who had assembled on a muddy soccer field in the rain-drenched Varginha slum.

Brazil was rocked by the largest street demonstrations in two decades last month, when more than a million people mobilised to condemn corruption, poor public services and the cost of hosting the 2014 World Cup.

A poll released on Thursday showed that the approval rating of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff's government plummeted more than 20 points to 31 per cent in the wake of the protests.

Pope Francis will return to more religious activities on Friday, hearing young Catholics confess at the Quinta de Boa Vista park before having lunch with 12 young men and women from five continents.

He will then meet privately with five inmates, away from cameras that have followed him since he landed on Monday.

At the end of the day, he will again hop on his open-top jeep to drive along the crescent-shaped Copacabana beach and participate in a re-enactment of the 14 Stations of the Cross - scenes of Jesus carrying the cross to his crucifixion.

"The pope is showing incredible energy during this trip, like in Rome," Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said. "He doesn't even take advantage of the moments of rest. He's always in action."

The pope's weekend schedule was drastically changed due to the rain that has battered Rio state this week.

Organisers moved Sunday's final mass to Copacabana because the original site, a huge field outside Rio, was soaked. This forced the organisers to also cancel an all-night vigil from Saturday to Sunday at the field in Guaratiba.

Workers had toiled for months to build a huge stage there, but the site that was dubbed "the field of faith" will remain empty this weekend.