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Pope Francis praying for better weather on final days in Brazil

RIO DE JANEIRO -- Unusually heavy rains and cold temperatures have forced church organizers to change the location of Pope Francis’s final events this weekend, when he wraps up a busy pilgrimage to the world’s largest Roman Catholic country this weekend.

A march to a large field about 30 miles from central Rio de Janeiro has been canceled, and a closing Mass has been moved back to the Copacabana beach, where Francis on Thursday night greeted hundreds of thousands of enthusiastic, if damp, youth from five continents.

This is winter in the Southern Hemisphere, but weather in Rio has been harsher than expected. It even snowed in Brazil’s southeast -- virtually unheard-of -- and three people were reported to have died because of the cold.

Friday was looking a little brighter, with blue skies visible in the morning for the first time in several days. The pope the day before told Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes that he would pray to St. Clare for better weather. St. Clare was one of the first followers of St. Francis of Assisi, from whom the pope took his name.

The festivities Saturday and Sunday had been scheduled for a field called Campus Fidei in the Guaratiba area. The government had spent considerable time and money to get the field ready, constructing hundreds of medical stations and installing portable toilets. Pictures of the site showed rivers of mud and a generally inhospitable environment.

“It is absolutely soaked,” papal spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi said. “For better security … it is not wise to have our young people staying there.”

Immediately, there was grumbling in some quarters about wasted money invested in preparations. Paes, in a news conference, fended off questions about costs, a particularly sensitive issue in a country roiled recently by raucous protests over excessive state spending on events like next year’s World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games.

Just draining one waterway at Guaratiba cost about $2.7 million, the Brazilian daily Folha de Sao Paulo reported. Overall, the papal visit is believed to be costing around 20 times that, according to local news reports.

"I think they could have taken all that money and invested it in health or education instead," Kaiah Wai-wai, a 23-year old member of the Wai-wai tribe, said at a protest outside the state governor's residence Thursday night.

Some pilgrims were fine with the venue changes.

“They told us it was going to take 12 hours to get back,” Steven Lenahan of Atlanta said. “It could have caused lots of environmental damage, all of us going out there.”

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Special correspondent Vincent Bevins contributed to this report

wilkinson@latimes.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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