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Wrong turn leads Pope into mob scene in Rio de Janeiro

Security alarmed, but pope clearly delighted by unplanned opportunity to connect with crowd

A wrong turn sent a humble Fiat carrying Pope Francis into the thick of a frenzied Rio crowd Monday in his first minutes back in South America since becoming pontiff.

It was a nightmare for security officials, but for the clearly delighted Pope, it was just another opportunity to connect.

Ecstatic throngs forced his motorcade to repeatedly come to a standstill, weeks after violent protests against the government paralyzed parts of Brazil.

Francis’ driver had turned into the wrong side of a boulevard at one point, missing lanes that had been cleared.

Related: Pope asks priests, nuns to tone down their cars

Other parts of the pope’s route to the city centre weren’t lined with fencing, giving the throngs more chances to get close, with uniformed police nowhere in sight to act as crowd control.

The three dozen visible Vatican and Brazilian plainclothes security officials struggled to keep the crowds at bay.

Francis, however, not only looked calm but got even closer to the people.

He rolled down his back-seat window, waved to the crowd and touched those who reached inside. He kissed a baby a woman handed to him.

“His secretary was afraid,” papal spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi said. “But the Pope was happy.”

The Pope is here on a seven-day visit meant to fan the fervour of the faithful around the globe.

That task has grown more challenging as Roman Catholics stray, even in strongholds of the religion such as Brazil, yet it seemed to come easily to Francis even on the drive from the airport to an official opening ceremony.

  • Rio