Pope Warns Casual Rio Crowd Against Hedonism


Urging Roman Catholic families to be “carriers of peace and joy,” the ailing but durable Pope John Paul II wound up a four-day visit to Brazil and a peripatetic year Sunday with a seafront Mass for at least 1 million followers.

“Families of the world . . . you are the hope of humanity!” the 77-year-old pontiff told the outdoor crowd. “Do not let hedonistic mentality, ambitions and egoism enter your homes.”

John Paul delivered his lecture in a strong voice at the close of a world Catholic conference on family values, speaking to worshipers in Flamengo Park along Rio’s Guanabara Bay in 90-degree heat.


Attire for the Mass--a relaxed celebration with music, flag-waving and prayer--ran from swimwear to loose-fitting guayabera shirts. Worshipers camped overnight in the front-row positions, hung like oversized fruit from mimosa trees or sat before giant video screens for a better view.

They stretched so far along the esplanade that the green-robed pontiff, seated on a platform nearly three stories high, appeared as a speck to some and was invisible to others.

“The pope is Carioca!” the crowd chanted over and over, using the name this city’s 6 million residents call themselves. “And God is Brazilian!”

Brazil’s TV Globo News put the crowd at 1 million people. Police estimates ranged from 1.5 million to 2 million.

The turnout upstaged that in Sao Paulo last week by 700,000 delegates to the Second World Congress of the Assembly of God--one of many Protestant groups drawing followers away from Brazil’s Catholic Church, the largest in the Vatican domain.

Sunday’s crowd rivaled--and perhaps surpassed--the million-plus gatherings of Catholic youth in Paris and of Polish compatriots in Krakow as the largest Mass during the pope’s six foreign trips this year.



Despite his advancing age, his difficulty walking and a strong tremor in his left hand, John Paul continues to confound Vatican watchers with his travels. He ventured abroad as many times this year as in any other year since 1982.

Averaging a journey a month since April, he made long-delayed missions to preach reconciliation among the ruins of war in the Bosnian capital, Sarajevo, and in Beirut. He also visited the Czech Republic, as well as France and Poland, with crusades against behavior he denounced here--the pursuit of materialistic goals, premarital sex, birth control, abortion, abandonment of children, divorce and homosexual marriage.

John Paul’s next scheduled trip, to Cuba in late January, will bring the anti-Communist pope face to face with Communist leader Fidel Castro for a historic dialogue and test of the Catholic Church’s freedom on the Caribbean island.

Three of Castro’s aides met here Saturday night with Vatican officials to study the security and logistical arrangements of the Rio papal visit and to map the four-day Cuba visit.

The pope has “three or four other trips on the drawing board” for next year, Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said Sunday, adding that John Paul “is healthy, happy and in good spirits.”

Brazilians had not seen John Paul close up since 1991--three years before his surgery to replace a thighbone broken in a fall. Live television commentary on his arrival Thursday noted, in worried tones, that he took three minutes to descend the ladder from his jet.


But at a rally Saturday in Rio’s soccer stadium, the pope climbed the 23 stairs to his chair without using a handrail or his cane. After reaching the top, he twirled the cane playfully for TV cameras. On Sunday, he was whisked to the altar in a special lift.

“He looks more tired this time,” said Lillian Patricia da Silva, who last saw the pope when he visited her hillside slum in 1980. “But he’s still smiling and happy, and I feel very glad to see him.”

This time John Paul made only the briefest of visits to one of Rio’s infamous slums, known as favelas. But in commuting daily between the city and the mountaintop archbishop’s residence, his car wound through favelas that have fallen prey to drug gangs and nightly gunfire.

About 26,000 detectives, military police officers and soldiers were deployed in 29 favelas to protect the pope.

The only reported trouble came from inside the security detail itself. As John Paul arrived to bless patients at a cancer hospital Saturday, a military police officer knelt in front of his bulletproof popemobile, waved a piece of paper and yelled, “I want to speak to the pope!”

Other police officers dragged him away.