APARECIDA, Brazil — Pope Francis made an emotional plea Wednesday for Roman Catholics to shun materialism in the first public Mass of his initial international trip as pontiff, then met with drug addicts and denounced the “dealers of death” who fuel their suffering.
On his first full day of activities in Brazil, Francis traveled from one of the most important shrines in Latin America, Our Lady of Aparecida, to what he called a “shrine of human suffering” — a hospital in Rio de Janeiro that treats substance abusers.
Both encounters had a common theme that the humble pope has stressed during his young papacy: a denunciation of the “ephemeral idols” of money and power and a need for the Catholic Church to focus on the poor and outcasts.
Francis started his day traveling to Aparecida, where thousands packed into the huge Basilica of the Shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida in an agricultural region of verdant fields between Rio and Sao Paolo. Tens of thousands more braved a cold rain outside to catch a glimpse of the first pope from the Americas returning to a shrine of great meaning to the continent and to Francis himself.
Before the Mass, Francis stood in silent prayer in front of the 15-inch statue of the Virgin of Aparecida, the “Black Mary,” his eyes tearing up as he breathed heavily. He later carried a replica of it in his arms, visibly moved at the gift he had been given. Francis has entrusted his papacy to the Virgin Mary and, like many Catholics in Latin America, places great importance in devotion to Mary.
After his Mass, the pope blessed the tens of thousands gathered outside the basilica and announced that he would return to Aparecida in 2017, the year that marks the 300th anniversary of a fisherman finding the Black Mary statue in a nearby river.
Back in Rio, Francis arrived in a closed car at the St. Francis of Assisi hospital — named for Francis’ namesake, the 13th century friar who renounced a wealthy, dissolute lifestyle to embrace a life of simplicity. The pope bounded out of the car into a cold rain and greeted a group of people in wheelchairs and well-wishers.