By Janet Tappin Coelho
The gesture was greeted with shouts of surprise initially. Then the audience of Brazilian politicians and business people erupted into roars of approval and thunderous applause.
It was a compelling moment. Moments earlier, the pope had spoken about the state's responsibility to respect and encourage "peaceful coexistence between different religions."
"Between selfish indifference and violent protest there is always another possible option, and the key to developing a just and fair society as a leader is dialogue, dialogue, dialogue," he said.
It came after the pontiff spoke Saturday at Rio's Municipal Theater to an audience mostly made up of Brazil's political, business and cultural elite.
After the talk, he was greeted by well-wishers on stage, including a few Indians.
A bare-chested man named Ubirai Matos from the Pataxo tribe met the pope while wearing a reed skirt, ornate red-bead necklace and large nose and ear piercings.
Matos took off his feather headdress and handed it to the pontiff.
Francis promptly placed it on his own head and flashed the crowd a smile.
By Bradley Brooks
The pontiff met with a few thousand of Brazil's political, business and cultural elite in Rio de Janeiro's Municipal Theater, where he also shook hands with Indians who said they were from a tribe that has been battling ranchers and farmers trying to invade their land in northeastern Bahia state.
In a separate speech to bishops, the pope called for "respect and protection of the entire creation which God has entrusted to man, not so that it be indiscriminately exploited but rather made into a garden."
He also urged attention to a 2007 document by Latin American and Caribbean bishops that he was in charge of drafting, which underscored dangers facing the Amazon environment and the native people living there. The document also called for new evangelization efforts to halt a steep decline in Catholics leaving for other faiths or secularism.
"The traditional communities have been practically excluded from decisions on the wealth of biodiversity and nature. Nature has been, and continues to be, assaulted," the document reads.
Several of the indigenous people in the audience hailed from the Amazon and said they hoped the pope would help them protect land designated by the government as indigenous reserves but that farmers and ranchers illegally invade for timber and to graze cattle. In fact, grazing has been the top recent cause of deforestation in Brazil.