x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Pope Francis meets Brazilian sports legends in Rio

Papal visit for World Youth Day stops in Brazil's Rio de Janeiro.

RIO DE JANEIRO // Pope Francis met Brazilian sports legends and blessed the Olympic flag in Rio de Janeiro yesterday, as the football-mad pontiff brought his religious influence to the city preparing for major sporting events.

The 76-year-old Argentine, an aficionado of a Buenos Aires club, San Lorenzo, shook hands with football icon Zico as well as Olympic athletes before receiving the keys to the metropolis.

The pope made the sign of the cross and sprinkled holy water on the Olympic flag as he stood on the balcony of the Rio City Hall - the same spot where the symbol of Carnival, King Momo, accepts the key to the city every year to kick off the wild annual party.

Rio will host the World Cup games next year before organising the 2016 Olympic Games.

The pope arrived in Brazil on Monday for a week-long visit coinciding with World Youth Day, an event drawing about 1.5 million young Catholics from 170 nations.

Also yesterday, he visited one of Rio de Janeiro's slums, or favelas, where despite heavy security and a cold rain he waded into the crowds without an umbrella and hugged and kissed residents.

His open-air car was mobbed on a few occasions as he headed into the community of flimsy, brick shacks, but he never seemed in danger. In fact, Pope Francis was showered with gifts as he walked down one of the main drags of the neighbourhood.

The pontiff draped a paper lei around his neck and held up a San Lorenzo scarf as he passed through the throng.

* Agence France-Presse and Associated Press