By Nicole Winfield and Bradley Brooks
The Associated Press
RIO DE JANEIRO — Frenzied crowds of Roman Catholics mobbed the car carrying Pope Francis on Monday when he returned to his home continent for the first time as pontiff, embarking on a seven-day visit meant to fan the fervor of the faithful.
During his 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 ceremony in Rio’s center. A few security guards struggled mightily to push the crowd back in scenes that at times looked alarming. Church and city officials said the pope’s driver turned into the wrong part of a boulevard and missed lanes that had been cleared.
Francis looked calm during the frenzy. He rolled down the window on the back 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. Many in the crowd looked stunned, with some standing still and others sobbing loudly.
Anti-government protesters clashed with police outside a welcoming ceremony for Francis, but the anger was directed at Brazilian leaders and not the pontiff.
A Vatican official also said that authorities had found a small, homemade bomb near a church the pope plans to visit Wednesday but that it didn’t appear connected to the pontiff’s visit.