Jorge Saenz, Associated Press
RIO DE JANEIRO — A smiling Pope Francis stepped off a plane and into the warm embrace of his native Latin America Monday, landing in Brazil for the start of a seven-day trip meant to fan the fervor of the faithful across the globe.
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff met Francis and vigorously shook his hand after he descended. The pontiff was then handed two bouquets of white and yellow flowers by two adolescent girls, each of whom he kissed on the cheek.
Reaching the end of the red carpet full of church leaders and other dignitaries, Pope Francis and the Brazilian leader paused as they were serenaded by an enthusiastic choir of about three dozen Catholic youths, singing an anthem linked to World Youth Day, a semi-annual event uniting hundreds of thousands of young faithful from around the globe. Before singing, the kids robustly yelled soccer-like chants in the pope's honor.
The pontiff didn't make any public comments at the airport; about 10 minutes after emerging from the plane at 4 p.m. (3 p.m. EDT), Pope Francis entered a simple Fiat car and made his way to Rio's center, where he'll tour some central streets in an open air vehicle and then attend an official welcoming ceremony at a government palace.
As the car arrived in Rio's center, it was mobbed by frenzied crowds of the faithful as he made his way into central Rio de Janeiro. Several times along the route, security officers struggled to push them away.
Francis rolled down the window on the back passengers 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 back.
Outside the Guanabara government palace where the pope will be officially welcomed, Alicia Velazquez, a 55-year-old arts teacher from Buenos Aires, was waiting to catch a glimpse of the pope, whom she knew well when he was archbishop of her hometown.
"It was so amazing when he selected, we just couldn't believe it, we cried and hugged one another," Velazquez said. "I personally want to see if he's still the same man as simple and humble whom we all knew. I have faith that he's remained the same."
It was the first time the Argentine-born Francis returned to his home continent since his selection as pope in March.
Earlier on the flight from Rome, Francis expressed concern for a generation of youth growing up jobless as the world economy sputters.
The message should resonate with the young people in the mammoth crowds expected at a papal Mass on Rio's Copacabana beach and other ceremonies during Francis' seven days in Brazil, the world's most populous Roman Catholic nation.
During his stay, the 76-year-old Argentine-born pontiff will meet with legions of young Catholics converging for the church's World Youth Festival in Rio. More than 1 million people are expected to pack the white sands of Copacabana for the Mass celebrated by Francis. He will also visit a tiny chapel in a trash-strewn slum, and make a side trip to venerate Brazil's patron saint, Our Lady of Aparecida.
During his flight from Rome, Francis warned about youth unemployment in some countries in the double digits, telling about 70 journalists aboard the papal plane that there is a "risk of having a generation that hasn't worked." He said, "Young people at this moment are in crisis."
He didn't specify any country or region, but much of Europe is seeing those gloomy youth joblessness numbers, especially in Greece, Spain and Italy. Brazil is in far better shape than European nations, with unemployment at an all-time low after a decade of economic expansion.
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