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Pope draws 3M to Mass as Brazil trip closes

By Nicole Winfield

Associated Press

Published: Sunday, July 28 2013 7:08 p.m. MDT

The Vatican said more than 3 million people were on hand for the Mass, based on information from World Youth Day organizers and local authorities who estimated two-thirds were from outside Rio. That was far higher than the 1 million at the last World Youth Day in Madrid in 2011 or the 850,000 at Toronto's 2002 concluding Mass.

Only Pope John Paul II's Mass during his 1995 visit to Manila, the capital of the Philippines, topped Rio's numbers, with an estimated 5 million people taking part. Third place among papal Masses now goes to Rome's World Youth Day in the 2000 Jubilee year, when 2 million people participated. A similar number attended John Paul's final Mass in Krakow, his Polish hometown, in 1979, during his first visit to his homeland as pope.

As if recalling that historic Mass, Francis announced Sunday that the next World Youth Day would be held in Krakow in 2016.

The presidents of Brazil, Francis' native Argentina, Bolivia and Suriname were on hand for the Mass, as were the vice presidents of Uruguay and Panama. Receiving a special honor was a couple Francis met on Saturday after Mass at Rio's cathedral; they had brought him their anencephalic baby daughter to be blessed. Francis invited them to participate in the offertory procession Sunday, at which the father wore a T-shirt that read "Stop abortion."

Later, the pope thanked some of the 60,000 volunteers who organized the youth festival before flying to Rome. He called on the thousands of young people packed into a vast hall to "be revolutionaries" and "swim against the tide."

Francis spent much of the week emphasizing that core message: of the need for Catholics, lay and religious, to shake up the status quo, get out of their stuffy sacristies and reach the faithful on the margins of society or risk losing them to rival churches.

According to census data, the number of Catholics in Brazil dipped from 125 million in 2000 to 123 million in 2010, with the church's share of the total population dropping from 74 percent to 65 percent. During the same time period, the number of evangelical Protestants and Pentecostals jumped from 26 million to 42 million, increasing from 15 percent to 22 percent of the population.

While speaking to the young volunteers, Francis urged those thinking of dedicating their lives to the church to follow the urge, recalling the day he felt the calling.

"I will never forget that day, 21 September — I was 17 years old — when, after stopping in the Church of San Jose de Floresto to go to confession, I first heard God calling me," he said. "Do not be afraid of what God asks of you! It is worth saying 'yes' to God. In him we find joy."

Associated Press writers Marco Sibaja and Bradley Brooks contributed to this report.

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