Pope Francis to visit Brazil in July for youth festival

Pope Francis watches the procession of pilgrims and clergy on Palm Sunday

Pope Francis, the Catholic Church's first Latin American leader, has announced in his Palm Sunday homily he will visit Brazil in July.

He will attend a Catholic youth gathering in Rio de Janeiro, saying Mass on Copacabana beach and praying at the Christ the Redeemer statue.

The Pope spoke in St Peter's Square as Holy Week, the most important period in the Christian calendar, began.

Thousands of people waved olive branches and palm fronds in the crowd.

Start Quote

I will see you in that great city in Brazil”

End Quote Pope Francis

The gesture commemorates palm branches which, according to the Bible, were laid in the path of Jesus Christ when he made his entry on a donkey into Jerusalem before his crucifixion.

Pope Francis departed frequently from the prepared text of his homily, the BBC's David Willey reports from Rome.

His style is informal, direct and, in contrast to his predecessors, he tells stories off the cuff to illustrate the points he wants to make, our correspondent says.

'See you in Rio'

The Catholic youth festival is expected to attract hundreds of thousands of young pilgrims from around the world.

Towards the end of his homily, the pontiff said: "I look forward joyfully to next July in Rio de Janeiro.

"I will see you in that great city in Brazil."

The BBC's Alan Johnson: "We will never know the details of their talks"

The gathering in Rio would, he said, be a "sign of faith for the whole world".

Pope Benedict attended the last such festival, in Madrid, in August 2011.

Known formally as Pope Emeritus Benedict since his retirement last month, he received his successor for the first time on Saturday, at the papal residence of Castel Gandolfo outside Rome.

Pope Francis has decided to modify some traditional Vatican Holy Week observances.

On Thursday, for example, he will visit a prison for young offenders in a Roman suburb where he will symbolically wash the feet of 12 young prisoners.

In previous years the ceremony was performed by the pope in Rome's Cathedral of Saint John Lateran, with priests symbolising the 12 apostles.

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