Pope makes impromptu visit to Rome basilica, surprises faithful

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis has surprised a group of people visiting a Rome basilica today.

The Vatican says the pope made an unannounced visit to St. Mary Major basilica to pray for followers who will gather next week in Brazil for World Youth Day. He entered through a side door and spent more than half an hour praying in a chapel in front of an icon of the Madonna.

Before leaving, the Vatican says Francis stopped in front of the central altar and asked the faithful to follow his journey “with prayer, faith and penance.”

St. Mary Major is the same basilica where Francis went for an early morning prayer the day after being elected pope.

Francis leaves Monday for Rio de Janeiro, where a million or more young Catholics are expected to celebrate their new pope.

The trip is the first international journey for the 76-year-old Argentine since he became pope in March.

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APPHOTO OSS102: In this photo provided by the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano, Pope Francis lights a candle in Rome’s St. Mary Major Basilica he unexpectedly visited for a moment of prayer in view of his upcoming trip to Brazil to celebrate the World Youth Day, Saturday, July 20, 2013. Francis leaves Monday, July 22 for Rio de Janeiro, where more than a million young Catholics are expected to celebrate their new pope. The 76-year-old Argentine became the church’s first pontiff from the Americas in March, and the trip to Brazil is his first international journey since becoming pontiff. Catholic youth festivals are meant to reinvigorate the faithful, and Francis is expected to inspire young people with his humble ways. (AP Photo/L’Osservatore Romano, ho) (20 Jul 2013)

<<APPHOTO OSS102 (07/20/13)££

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