RIO DE JANEIRO -- A smiling Pope Francis rode an open-roofed popemobile through the streets of downtown Rio de Janeiro on Monday afternoon, as huge crowds of onlookers cheered, laughed and snapped photos.
Mostly young Roman Catholics from around the world, especially from Brazil and the pontiff's native Argentina, lined up for hours, waving flags, dancing and singing soccer-style chants until Francis landed at the Rio airport and then drove downtown to pass quickly through the crowds in his white car.
"It was beautiful. It was too fast, but beautiful, and very emotional," said 19-year-old Victoria Carvalho from Rio, who said she tries to attend Mass once a week. "I got lots of photos, of course. Something like this doesn't happen every day."
Organized groups of young pilgrims in color-coordinated shirts filled the streets, but as the pope got closer, more and more people wandered out of their work places to see Francis.
A number of people interviewed by The Times said they were fond of Francis for the same reasons: his humility, simplicity and desire to move the church closer to common people.
"I've become really into my faith recently and Francis is one big reason," said Andrew Gray, 16, who is the son of a Mexican mother and American father and is attending school in Texas.
"I heard this one story about him going out in normal clothes, without security, and just going up to hug a homeless person," said Gray, who waved a large combined version of the flags of Mexico and the United States. It made me think, 'Wow. This guy's different.'"
Francis reportedly insisted on an open car, rather than the bulletproof version local authorities recommended. Afterward, he boarded a helicopter for a meeting with President Dilma Rousseff and other political leaders, as protesters gathered outside the meeting place.