RIO DE JANEIRO -- Residents of one of Rio de Janeiro’s poorest neighborhoods Thursday gave Pope Francis an enthusiastic welcome, grateful for anyone to shine a light on their plight.
“He’s brought a lot of attention to us, and a lot of improvements to our neighborhood,” said Valmir de Paula, 41, who runs a little corner general store. “The trash has improved, things have cleaned up. I hope the improvements are here to stay.”
Francis visited the Varginha favela, or slum, to tell the poor to persevere in their demands for equality and justice.
"He's bringing hope to the community, especially the children, and showing them that you can get through anything with faith and goodwill,” said Suely Ribeiro, 58, an education worker.
From early hours, groups gathered under umbrellas against the steady rain to await the pope.
“This is really important for us. He's a representative of humility and caring and most importantly true peace, which is something we need here,” said Milena de Souza, 26, an office assistant. “Because of all the violence we've had here, hopefully, the pope can bless us.”
Pilgrims from all over the world also joined the Varginha residents.
“We came all the way out here because we believe when this pope visits a poor community, it’s not just a photo opportunity, it's real,” said Hugo Castro, 40, from Mexico City. A local Roman Catholic Church volunteer helped him find his way into the slum from the train system.
Later, the pope was meeting with young pilgrims from his native Argentina.