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.
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.
- A crowd mobs the silver Fiat carrying Pope Francis, centre, through Rio de Janeiro on Monday in this image taken from video.
- REFILE - CORRECTING RESTRICTIONS Pope Francis kisses a baby while greeting a crowd of the faithful from his Popemobile in downtown Rio de Janeiro July 22, 2013. Pope Francis touched down in Rio de Janeiro on Monday, starting his first foreign trip as pontiff and a weeklong series of events expected to attract more than a million people to a gathering of young faithful in Brazil, home to the world's largest Roman Catholic population. REUTERS/Raphael Lima-Rio Mayor's Office/Handout via Reuters (BRAZIL - Tags: RELIGION TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY) ATTENTION EDITORS â THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS PICTURE WAS PROCESSED BY REUTERS TO ENHANCE QUALITY. AN UNPROCESSED VERSION WILL BE PROVIDED SEPARATELY