Pope has sensitive task in Brazil after protests

(CBS News) RIO DE JANEIRO -- Thousands of worshippers gathered on Rio de Janeiro's Copacabana Beach Tuesday for a mass in honor of Pope Francis.

The pope has a sensitive task while he is in Brazil. Just last month, the streets were full of demonstrations against the government, protesting general ineptitude and an indifference to the poor. There is a chance the pope's trip here and his spiritual identification with the poor could inflame matters.

Father Thomas Rosica
Father Thomas Rosica CBS News

On Monday night, outside a government palace, the pope was visiting a renewed protest became a street battle.

"The shamelessness of the government has to end," said one demonstrator. "Long live the struggle of the Brazilian people."

Father Thomas Rosica, a Vatican broadcaster here with the pope, acknowledged Francis and the protesters are kindred spirits.

"They're speaking about issues of justice, of peace, of equity, of the distribution of wealth and the great disparity that exists here," Rosica said.

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After a period of vigorous growth, Brazil's economy has stagnated. Prices and taxes are high by U.S. standards, and official corruption is breathtakingly brazen.

This grandmother said she wants the pope to address the drug violence that afflicts her community.
This grandmother said she wants the pope to address the drug violence that afflicts her community. CBS News

One grandmother told us she wants the pope to address the drug violence that afflicts her community. She lives in one of the favelas, or slums, that hug the mountains around the city - places where there is a surplus of crime and a deficit of hope.

The pope will tour one of them on Thursday, a sensitive step given that his visit is costing Brazil about $50 million.

For now, though, the pope's near riotous reception Monday night is still the talk of the town.

"The pope's secretary, who was in the car when the pontiff was mobbed by crowds, was quite concerned," Rosica said. "The pope was not the least bit concerned. He loved it. He was thrilled with it and he was laughing."

The pope will travel about 120 miles south of Rio de Janeiro Wednesday to the small town of Aparecida, which is home to one of the largest Catholic shrines in the world, with a seating capacity of 45,000 people.

  • Dean Reynolds

    Dean Reynolds is a CBS News National Correspondent based in Chicago.