Edward Pentin reporting from Rome
— As Pope Francis confirmed his attendance this coming July to the Church's World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the Vatican is currently mulling a visit to the Pontiff’s native Argentina on the same trip, Newsmax has learned.
Pope Benedict, before his abrupt resignation, had announced his plan to attend the global youth event, with organizers preparing for as many as 2.5 million attendees.
But the announcement of Francis’ ascension as the first Latin pope has caused Brazilian civil and church authorities to revise those estimates, placing the number of estimated visitors at 3.5 million or more.
In a bid to prevent logistical chaos, Brazil’s organizing officials have been urging the Vatican to add Buenos Aires onto the Pope's itinerary for the July trip.
"We could see one million Argentinians show up in Brazil if he doesn't go to Buenos Aires," a Vatican source familiar with the World Youth Day told Newsmax.
Organizers hope a papal stop in the Argentine capital would prevent such a large number of his compatriots making the short trip to Rio for World Youth Day.
Pope Francis today confirmed via Twitter that he would be attending the July 23-28 event, tweeting: "I am looking forward to next July in Rio de Janeiro! I hope to see all of you in that great Brazilian city!"
Brazilian officials have become increasing nervous about their capacity to handle the influx of millions of visitors. Rio has a population of close to six million, but tourists are generally found in a narrow strip of land between the ocean and the city's nearby mountains. Already the venue of the Youth event will be held miles south of the city in an open field.
And the event, sponsored by Sony Brazil, will feature a music concert after the Pope's services. Organizers hope the concert will keep the millions of young people busy as the Pope, his entourage and other officials and dignitaries make their exit for Rio.
The office of Brazil’s President, Dilma Rousseff, said last week that the Pope would be visiting the world's most Catholically-populated country, and meeting her in the capital Brasilia. A spokesman also said that the Brazilian government intends to sign an agreement with the Pope, the first in history, to battle poverty.
But Vatican sources say the Pope is concerned about returning to Argentina too quickly. The source noted that the Pope and Church officials are concerned about the October Argentinian elections and the perception his trip might interfere with local politics.
President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner invited the Pope to visit Argentina when they met privately March 18, but the Pope said his calendar was full during the dates she suggested. He told her that he would try to make time. As Cardinal Bergoglio, the Pope often criticized the Kirchner government over some of its policies.
For a pope to visit his native country so soon after being elected would not be unusual. In 2005, Benedict XVI attended a pre-planned World Youth Day in Cologne, Germany, just five months after his election.
And John Paul II first visited his native Poland in July 1979, nine months after he became pope. The visit was believed to have been historic for his nation and some believe led to the Solidarity movement.
As an Argentinian Cardinal and now Pope, Francis is said to be animated over the issue of rising evangelical movements in Latin America. The presence of the Pontiff would also be welcomed in the region as Latin American Catholics continue to be drawn to Pentecostal sects or have rejected the faith entirely. Over the past 13 years, the Catholic population of several Latin American countries has fallen by nearly a quarter.
Several activities have already been planned for Pope Francis in Brazil, including a visit to a favela and meetings with bishops and young people.
Organizers are also looking at the possibility that the Pope will visit other Brazilian cities during his trip, such as Aparecida where the nation’s shrine to the Virgin Mary is located.
The theme for WYD Rio 2013 is taken after Jesus’ command, “Go and make disciples of all peoples.”
The official program will be announced in late April.
Edward Pentin began reporting on the Vatican as a correspondent with Vatican Radio in 2002. He has covered the Pope and the Holy See for a number of publications, including Newsweek, and The Sunday Times. Read more reports from Edward Pentin — Click Here Now.
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