A large crowd received Pope Francis on Monday downtown in this Brazilian metropolis as the pontiff began a week-long visit to take part in the annual World Youth Day event.

Thousands of people poured into the streets of downtown Rio to see the pontiff pass by in the popemobile, from which he waved at the public and gave blessings left and right.

His ride through town was not on the official agenda, but the Vatican announced Friday that Francis wished to greet the people from the very first day he was in Rio de Janeiro.

He attracted huge crowds even though his presence in the streets was announced just two days before.

The first Latin American pope, smiling broadly, kissed some children on the head that his bodyguards ushered to him.

The popemobile drove between San Sebastian Cathedral and the Municipal Theater showered with confetti from the upper floors of office buildings.

Pope Francis had arrived at the cathedral in an armored car that brought him from the Rio de Janeiro airport, where he was received by Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff.

Almost at the end of the trip to the cathedral, the papal procession entered lanes of the expressway that had been blocked, which kept the armored car stopped for about five minutes together with hundreds of other vehicles and a crowd pushing and shoving to get close to the pontiff.

After his tour in the popemobile through downtown Rio de Janeiro greeting the people, Francis headed for Guanabara Palace, seat of the Rio de Janeiro government, for the reception ceremony and a first private meeting with Rousseff. EFE