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Rio metro breaks down, causing chaos amid papal visit

24 july 2013, 16:33
0
Rio de Janeiro's subway broke down on Tuesday, causing chaos for throngs of pilgrims in town for a huge Catholic gathering and a papal visit already marked by security lapses, AFP reports.

Crowds of people crammed into buses, scrambled to find taxis or walked to Copacabana beach for an evening mass to officially kick off World Youth Day.

Despite the traffic trouble and some rain drops, the Vatican said 560,000 pilgrims from around the world made it to the beach, singing, waving flags and praying as Rio Archbishop Orani Tempesta led the mass.

Latin America's first pope, who arrived Monday, rested in a hillside residence but sent a message to his flock via Twitter: "Dear young friends, Christ has confidence in you and he entrusts his own mission to you: Go and make disciples."

Getting to the beach became complicated for many pilgrims after a metro power cable broke, causing the city's two subway lines to shut down for two hours, officials said.

"The organization was a bit messy, but we're figuring things out little by little," said Fernando Cila, a 22-year-old from Buenos Aires, the pope's home city.

The metro breakdown came as local authorities grappled with security lapses during the pope's arrival on Monday, when crowds were able to approach his car and touch the 76-year-old Argentine pontiff despite massive security.

Rio's organization of World Youth Day and the visit of Pope Francis are seen as a test for its ability to host World Cup games next year and the Olympic Games in 2016.

Last month's Confederations Cup, an international soccer tournament seen as a dry run for the World Cup, was marked by massive protests over the country's poor public services, corruption and the billions spent on hosting sporting events.

Despite the metro's stoppage, people remained upbeat near a downtown station, with many singing and smiling as they looked for alternative ways to the beach. Some chanted "This is the pope's youth!"

Local radio, however, said police had to block a group of angry passengers from trying to rush into the Botafogo Metro station. At another station, commuters demanded explanations from metro employees.

"We'll walk," said Henry Lobo, a 29-year-old Venezuelan in town with pilgrims from Caracas. "We don't have another choice."

Two Italian priests waited at the corner of a boulevard hoping to hail a cab.

"We tried the bus and now we're trying taxis, but it's impossible," said Father Andre, 31.

Some 1.5 million people from 170 nations are expected to be in Rio for the week-long event.

After taking the day off on Tuesday, the pope will resume his hectic schedule on Wednesday with a visit to a shrine in Sao Paulo state, where he will give his first public mass as pope in his home region.

Pope Francis will then return to the crowds of Rio with mass gatherings on Copacabana on Thursday and Friday.

Earlier, he sent another tweet to thank his flock and "all the authorities for a magnificent welcome in Rio."

But Brazilian media highlighted the security "failure" during the pope's drive through the city. Pilgrims were able to stop his car and touch the pope through the open window.

A Rio municipal official said the driver made a wrong turn, keeping the car stuck in traffic for several hours. A federal official handling major events in Brazil said the pope himself had asked the driver to slow down.

The pope himself appeared upbeat and even kept his window down to salute the crowd while his security detail struggled to keep people away.

"It was a first experience. We saw the enthusiasm of the crowd. It is something new, maybe a lesson for the coming days," said Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi. "We have to find the correct way."

The pope's trip comes after last month's massive nationwide street protests, which often ended in violence.

On Monday, police used tear gas, stun grenades and water cannon to disperse hundreds of demonstrators who protested against the $53 million spent on the papal visit.

The military had earlier disclosed that troops found and destroyed a homemade explosive device in the bathroom of a parking lot at the sanctuary that the pope will visit in Aparecida on Wednesday.

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