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Pope Francis in Brazil: Beware the 'ephemeral idols'

Pope Francis spoke at a mass that appeared aimed at countering the Catholic exodus to evangelical and Pentecostal churches. Pope Francis visited the Shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida or the 'Black Mary.'

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"I've seen people in my own congregation leave because the Evangelicals offer them something new and exciting and the Catholic Church was seen as kind of old and stuffy," said Marcia Cecilia de Souza, the 52-year-old owner of a private school in the southern state of Santa Catarina, as she searched for newspaper to stuff into her soaked leather boots. "Francis is such an inspiration, so humble and giving I think he's going to bring people back into the fold."

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Unlike the scenes of chaos that greeted Francis upon his Monday arrival in Rio, when a mob of faithful swarmed his motorcade from the airport, the security situation in Aparecida was far more controlled. Chest-high barriers kept the faithful far from his car. Soldiers in camouflage, emergency crews in raincoats and other uniformed security forces stood guard along his route while his bodyguards walked along the side of his car.

Nacilda de Oliveira Silva, a short 61-year-old maid, perched at the front of the crowd though she was barely tall enough to see over the metal barrier.

"I have been up for almost 24 hours, most of that time on my feet and in the rain and the cold. But I don't feel any pain. I feel bathed in God's glory, and that's because of the pope. For me, it's the same thing as seeing Jesus pass by. That's how moved I feel."

Before the Mass, some pilgrims sought shelter from the Southern Hemisphere winter chill beneath tarps while others wrapped themselves in blankets and sleeping bags. And many left offerings to the Virgin.

Lena Halfeld, a 65-year-old housewife, paused to add her offering to a cardboard box filled with stuffed animals, leg braces and other personal objects. She deposited an embossed invitation to her niece's December wedding, which she was praying for the Virgin to bless.

"I have real faith in the powers of the Virgin of Aparecida," said Halfeld, adding she had made the hours-long trip to the church once a week for a year during her husband's recent illness. "Now he's cured, so I owe it all to her. I can't think of a more wonderful setting to see the new pope."

Francis is in Brazil for World Youth Day, a church event that brings together young Catholics from around the world roughly every three years. Approximately 350,000 young pilgrims signed up to officially take part in the Youth Day events.

In Aparecida, 16-year-old Natalia Pereira, a high school student from Sao Paulo state, said the cold rain she endured to get to the basilica was a "test of faith."

"I've been up all night in line, I'm soaked to the bone and freezing but I'm so excited that it's worth it," said Pereira, who tried to huddle from the drizzle beneath a friend's large umbrella. "This is my first time seeing a pope and this was an opportunity of a lifetime for me. I wasn't about to let it go because of a little rain."

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.

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