Pope Benedict XVI urged tens of thousands of young Catholics packing a football stadium to resist the temptations of wealth, power and other “snares of evil,” and told them to promote life from “its beginning to natural end.”
The references to church prohibitions against abortion and euthanasia came yesterday in Benedict’s first major speech since arriving in Brazil, the world’s largest Catholic country, on his first pilgrimage to Latin America.
While he made no mention of the church’s battle against Brazil’s free distribution on condoms to combat Aids, he touched on sexual themes with a call for fidelity between spouses and chastity “both within and outside marriage” - church language for responsible sex.
“Seek to resist forcefully the snares of evil that are found in many contexts,” Benedict told the crowd of some 40,000, with thousands more camped outside the Sao Paulo stadium.
His warnings against drug use, violence, corruption and the temptations of wealth and power were sure to sound across the region, while his condemnation of the “devastation of the environment of the Amazon Basin” was particularly important in Brazil, where Catholic activists have been working with the landless – at times at odds with the Vatican.
Before the pope arrived at the stadium, a man clad in a white robe took the stage and asked people in the crowd to stand and raise their right hands. “Yes to life!” the man shouted and the crowd repeated “No to abortion!”
Traditional Brazilian dancers entertained the 80-year-old pope, who was wearing a red cape. At one point, five young people came up to the stage and hugged the pontiff.
The crowd burst into a loud cheer when Benedict mentioned the name of his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, who visited Brazil three times, the final trip in 1997.
But they also shouted, “I love you,” when Benedict finished talking.
Abortion did not come up in Benedict’s meeting yesterday with President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, Benedict’s spokesman, the Rev Federico Lombardi said.
Silva says he is personally opposed to abortion, but that it is an issue for his government because many Brazilian women die from illegal abortions, highlighting the divide among those torn between the church’s traditional teachings and the pressures of the modern world.
Silva did tell the pope in the closed-door meeting that Brazil wants to help Africa develop biofuels as a way to ease poverty, local news media reported. Brazil is the world leader in developing ethanol from sugarcane and the only major exporter of the alternative fuel.
Brazil’s ambassador to the Vatican, Vera Machado, told the Agencia Estado news agency that the pope said he did not know much about biofuels but appreciated any help for Africa.
The pope also met Brazilian religious leaders, including members of the local Jewish and Islamic communities. The Muslim representative gave his white cape to the pope, describing the gift as a “gesture of brotherhood,” Lombardi said.
There were no representatives from Protestant evangelical churches, which have attracted millions of Catholics in recent years. Vatican officials said they have no official relations with those churches.