People dance outside the National Shrine of Our Lady Who Appeared ahead… (David Fernandez / European…)
RIO DE JANEIRO -- Pope Francis on Wednesday landed at a much-cherished shrine honoring the Virgin Mary on the first full day of his activities in the Americas.
The Argentine-born Francis flew from a rainy, overcast Rio de Janeiro to Aparecida, about 100 miles from Sao Paulo, site of a red-brick basilica that celebrates a black image of the mother of Christ. Millions of Catholics make pilgrimages to Aparecida every year.
He was scheduled to preside over Mass at the shrine to “Our Lady Who Appeared,” patron saint of Brazil, and lunch with bishops and seminarians. He was expected to praise “the house of the Mother of every Brazilian” and speak about hope and optimism.
Local legend tells the story this way: Brazilian fishermen who were suffering a dry spell in the mid-1700s suddenly netted a statue of Mary. With that catch, a bounty of fish followed. Other miracles were later attributed to the icon, and eventually the site was declared an official shrine.
A small explosive device was found in a bathroom in Aparecida, Brazilian media reports said, but deactivated well ahead of the pope’s arrival.
In his first overseas trip as pope, Francis arrived in Rio on Monday, was greeted by Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and then threw his security detail for a loop when his car took a wrong turn and was mobbed by loving but uncontrolled crowds.
On Tuesday, the pope rested and held private meetings. He is scheduled on Thursday to visit a favela, or slum -- one so poor and violent it is sometimes called the Gaza Strip. Officials insist it has been “pacified,” but the visit nevertheless will pose another security challenge.
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