Pope Francis met Brazilian sports legends and blessed the Olympic flag in Rio Thursday as the football-mad pontiff brought his religious power to the city preparing major sporting events.

The 76-year-old Argentine, an aficionado of Buenos Aires club San Lorenzo, shook hands with football icon Zico as well as Olympic athletes before receiving the keys to the metropolis.

The pope made the sign of the cross and sprinkled holy water on the Olympic flag as he stood on the balcony of the Rio City Hall — the same spot where the symbol of Carnival, King Momo, accepts the city’s keys every year to kick off the wild annual party.

“Thank you for being here right now,” Francis told a few hundred people braving the rain on the municipal mansion’s courtyard. “I bless all of you, your families, your neighborhoods. And pray for me.”

Rio will host World Cup games next year before organizing the 2016 Olympic Games.

The pope arrived in Brazil on Monday for a weeklong visit coinciding with World Youth Day, an event drawing some 1.5 million young Catholics from 170 nations. AFP


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