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Pope Poised to Open Weeklong Visit to Brazil

A banner with the Pope's photo is displayed on the field of the Maracana stadium before a soccer game in Rio de Janeiro Jul. 21, 2013.
Pope Francis on Monday opens a weeklong visit to Brazil - the world's largest Roman Catholic country that has in recent weeks been swept up in waves of anti-government protests.

More than one million young Catholics are expected to flock to Rio de Janeiro to celebrate the new pope. His itinerary includes meetings with local and national leaders and events connected to Thursday's celebration of World Youth Day.

The pontiff's schedule also includes a meeting with young inmates at a Rio prison, and a visit to shantytowns largely cleared of drug traffickers earlier this year by police and the Brazilian army. He also will inaugurate a Rio hospital wing for the treatment of drug addicts, and will pray at a shrine to Our Lady of Aparecida -- the patron saint of Brazil.

The former Argentine Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, who became pope earlier this year, will be welcomed to the country by Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff.

The papal visit originally was planned for Francis' predecessor, Pope Emeritus Benedict. who resigned the papacy in February.

Vatican analysts - noting early speculation the new pope might cancel the trip because of Vatican scandals - are describing the visit as a way to direct attention to social justice issues that Francis is seeking to make the centerpiece of his papacy.

The pope's visit comes at a time of social upheaval that began with protests in June against a bus fare increase in Sao Paulo. Those demonstrations quickly grew into massive street protests against government expenditures for hosting the 2014 Word Cup, and then spread to include protests against official corruption.