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By Lucy Jordan, Senior Contributing Reporter

BRASÍLIA, BRAZIL – Pope Francis will visit Rio de Janeiro for World Youth Day (WYD) in July, he announced Sunday at an address to mark the beginning of Holy Week. Francis, the first Pope from Latin America, was elected earlier this month following the surprise stepping-down of former Pope Benedict XVI.

Pope Francis confirms World Youth Day, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil News
Pope Francis has confirmed that he will open World Youth Day in Rio in July, photo by Roberto Stuckert Filho/Presidência da Republica.

Speaking during his Palm Sunday homily in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis said: “I look forward joyfully to next July in Rio de Janeiro.”

“I will see you in that great city in Brazil,” he added, BBC Brasil reported. The Pope will say Mass on Copacabana beach and visit the Christ the Redeemer statue to pray. The event will be a “sign of faith for the whole world.”

Expectations are that around four million will attend World Youth Day. It is one of a string of mega-events that will test Rio de Janeiro’s capacity to host millions of visitors, including the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016.

World Youth Day was begun by Pope John Paul II in 1985. The only other time it has been held in South American was in Buenos Aires in 1987. An estimated one million people attended.

President Dilma Rousseff met with Pope Francis in the private library of the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace last week. It was the Pope’s second official meeting with a head of state, after the president of Argentina, Cristina Kirchner.

“This is a Pope that speaks to the weakest, to the youth, to the elderly and to those who need help. I think he is a pontiff who has the capacity to be moved, that will dedicate himself to the poor and he has said that that is his main goal,” Rousseff told reporters before the meeting. “It is a reason for us Brazilians and for all Latin America to be proud of, but above all it is good for the whole world.”

Many observers had Archbishop of São Paulo Odilo Scherer pegged as a favorite to become Pope after Benedict XVI’s surprise resignation. Referring to the historic rivalry between Brazil and Argentina, Rousseff joked to an Argentine reporter that “Argentina deserves to be congratulated, but we always say that if the Pope is Argentine, God is Brazilian.”

Read more (in Portuguese).

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