This post last updated at 11:30 a.m. EDT
Millions of faithful thronged Brazil’s Copacabana Beach to hear Pope Francis deliver Sunday Mass, the culmination of the Latin American pontiff’s first papal trip abroad.
Francis, speaking from a massive stage erected on the beach, urged those gathered for World Youth Day’s concluding Mass to spread the Gospel “to the fringes of society, even to those who seem farthest away, most indifferent.”
“The church needs you, your enthusiasm, your creativity and the joy that is so characteristic of you,” he said to applause.
The pope’s Mass followed an overnight vigil that drew a reported 3 million people — many waving flags and carrying rosary beads — to the famous wave-swept, white sandy stretch.
In the Saturday evening address, Francis made reference to massive anti-government street protests that have plagued Brazil in recent weeks.
“The young people in the street are the ones who want to be actors of change. Please don’t let others be actors of change,” he urged. “Keep overcoming apathy and offering a Christian response to the social and political concerns taking place in different parts of the world.”
At one point in the address, the pope drew cheers from the crowd in the soccer-mad country when he said: “Jesus offers us something bigger than the World Cup!”
The Associated Press reports that Francis’ first international trip as pope — to a country that boasts more Catholics than any place else on earth — has helped him ride a crest of popularity that eluded his predecessor:
“By the time his open-sided car reached the stage for the vigil service Saturday night, the back seat was piled high with soccer jerseys, flags and flowers tossed to him by adoring pilgrims lining the beachfront route.
“… The attendance figure, given by local media citing the mayor’s office, is higher than the 1 million at the last World Youth Day vigil in Madrid in 2011, and far more than the 650,000 at Toronto’s 2002 vigil.”
Earlier Saturday, in a speech to 1,000 bishops and clerics at the Cathedral of St. Sebastian of Rio de Janeiro, Francis repeated his challenge to them not to “keep ourselves shut up in parishes, in our communities, when so many people are waiting for the Gospel.”