As Pope Francis headed to Brazil, he warned that the world risks having an entire generation of jobless young people as an emerging power facing anger over corruption and lagging public services.
The 76-year-old Argentine, speaking to journalists aboard the papal plane heading to a Catholic youth event in Rio de Janeiro, said his trip aimed in part "to encourage young people to integrate into society" and convince the world not to abandon them.
"The global crisis has brought nothing good to young people. I saw the data on youth unemployed last week. We run the risk of having a generation without work," said Francis, who carried his own luggage onto the plane, in keeping with his trademark simplicity.
Making his first trip abroad since becoming Latin America's first pope in March, Francis also lamented "the culture of rejection" of the elderly "despite the life wisdom they give us."
The pope, who preaches a "poor Church for the poor," arrives later in Brazil in the wake of massive protests against the cost of public transport, government waste and the billions spent on hosting the 2014 World Cup.
Throngs of young Catholics began to arrive in Rio, soaking up the sun on its famous beaches, but the Church is facing its own challenge in Brazil as the world's biggest Catholic nation has seen its flock shrink and Evangelical churches grow.
More than 90 percent of Brazilians identified as Catholic in 1970, according to the census. But a poll by Datafolha Institute showed Sunday 57 percent now call themselves Catholic, while 28 percent say they are Pentecostal or non-Pentecostal Evangelicals.
In the city of Rio, only 40 percent are Catholic while almost a quarter are "without religion," according to a separate poll published in the newspaper Folha de Sao Paulo.
The pope's message of a simpler church, closer to the people, may hit a nerve in Brazil, which has become richer but still faces economic challenges that brought some one million protesters to the streets last month.
After landing, the pope is expected to cross the city in an open-top jeep to greet the crowds instead of his bulletproof "Popemobile," a decision causing a logistical headache for authorities in the wake of the sometimes violent protests.
Authorities are deploying 30,000 troops and police in the crime-riddled city, where several streets are blocked off.
During his week-long visit, Francis will see the faces of Brazil's success and struggles, with a meeting Monday with President Dilma Rousseff and a visit to one of Rio's sprawling favelas, or slums, on Thursday.
While Francis meets Rousseff in the Rio state governor's palace, atheists and the Anonymous protest group plan to demonstrate outside against the $53 million spent from public coffers for the pope's visit.
Pilgrims from around the world are in Rio for World Youth Day, arriving by bus from neighboring nations or landing by plane from across the ocean to greet the first pope from Latin America.
Nuns checked in at hotels while other pilgrims walked along the beach, flaunting the colors of their countries as if it was already the 2014 World Cup. More than one million people are expected for the festivities.
A group of eight young Chileans, wrapped in their country's flag, walked along the beach of Copacabana as workers scrambled to finish the ornate stage that the pope will use to greet throngs of Catholic youths on Thursday.
"We are here to learn and share our experience with others," said Kathya Alvarado, 20, eating an ice cream with her friends while swimmers dived into the waves.
People took pictures of the stage but some Brazilians complained that the government should have invested the money in public services instead.
Edina Maria Perreira Lima, a 49-year-old retired cook, embodies some of Brazil's woes: She needs to treat a stomach ailment but can't afford health insurance -- and thieves snatched her purse last week.
"The government is putting a facade for the world to see the best of Brazil. But behind this facade, people are dying in hospitals," she said, pointing to the beach stage.
While Perreira is happy the pope is bringing a message of peace, she is an evangelical Christian because the religion "speaks more about God, and Catholics speak more about saints."