Security fears mar Pope’s visit to Brazil

There are growing security fears for Pope Francis after a pipe bomb was detonated at a site he is due to visit today and frenzied crowds of Roman Catholics mobbed the car carrying him after it took a wrong turn down a street in Rio’s centre.

Military authorities discovered a small explosive device in a parking garage bathroom at the Shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida in Brazil. The homemade bomb was found during a routine security sweep of the Marian shrine which Pope Francis intends to visit today.

The explosive, made with a plastic pipe wrapped in tape, was safely detonated by a police bomb squad.

Crowds mobbed the car carrying Pope Francis when he returned to his home continent for the first time as pontiff, embarking on a seven-day visit meant to fan the fervour of the faithful around the globe.

During the Pope’s first minutes in Brazil, ecstatic believers swarmed around the closed Fiat several times when it was forced to stop by heavy traffic on the drive from the airport to an official opening ceremony in Rio’s centre.

A few 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 looked calm during the frenzy. He rolled down the window on the rear passenger-side of the car where he was sitting, 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 it back.

After finally making it past crowds and blocked traffic, Francis switched to an open-air popemobile as he toured around the main streets in downtown Rio through mobs of people who screamed wildly as he waved and smiled. Many in the crowd looked stunned, with some standing still and others sobbing loudly.

At the airport earlier, Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff vigorously shook Francis’s hand after he descended the stairs following a no-frills charter flight.

He made no public statements. The Pope was handed two bouquets of white and yellow flowers by two adolescent girls, each of whom he kissed on the cheek.

Reaching the end of the red carpet full of church leaders and other dignitaries, Francis and the Brazilian president paused to be serenaded by a choir of about three dozen young people singing an anthem linked to World Youth Day, an event uniting hundreds of thousands of young faithful from around the globe.

Before singing, the youngsters robustly yelled football-like chants in the pope’s honour.

It was the first time the Argentine-born Francis had returned to his home continent since his selection as pope in March.

During his stay, the 76-year-old will meet legions of young Catholics converging for the church’s World Youth Festival in Rio. More than 1m people are expected to pack the white sands of Copacabana beach for ceremonies presided over by Francis. He will also visit a tiny chapel in a rubbish-strewn slum and make a side trip to venerate Brazil’s patron saint, Our Lady of Aparecida.

Anti-government protesters later clashed with police outside a welcoming ceremony for Francis at the Guanabara government palace, but the anger was directed at Brazilian leaders and not the pontiff.

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