Papal trip to Brazil turns spotlight on Latin America
By John Thavis, Catholic News Service
VATICAN CITY, Apr. 30, 2007 (www.catholicnews.com) -- Pope Benedict XVI is making his first trip to the Western Hemisphere in mid-May, traveling to Brazil to open a strategizing session with Latin American bishops.
The May 9-13 visit begins with a string of pastoral events in Sao Paulo, where the pope will meet with young people and canonize the first Brazilian-born saint.
Then he moves to the basilica of Our Lady of Aparecida, where he will inaugurate the Fifth General Conference of the Bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean, celebrating Mass and delivering a major speech to participants of the May 13-31 meeting.
The trip turns a spotlight on Latin America, a geographical area that has had little attention from this pope to date, but where 43 percent of the world's Catholics live.
It also broadens the horizons of the pope's two-year pontificate, taking him outside Europe, where four of his previous five trips have occurred.
"I think we may have this idea of a pope who has spoken a lot about Europe and who has a 'bookish' culture in the tradition of European thought and reflection," said Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman.
"But although many people are not aware of it, this is a pope who traveled extensively as a cardinal and who has been able to acquaint himself with diverse realities of the church," Father Lombardi said.
"I think the messages, gestures and images of this trip will help people understand how the pope sees the 'universal' side of his ministry, in a more evident way than before," he said.
The issues on the Latin American bishops' agenda are not new, and the pope reviewed them in capsule form last February:
-- The need to revitalize the faith among the church's members in order to generate a new sense of mission in society.
-- The proselytism of religious sects, which require, in the pope's view, a new effort in Catholic education.
-- The "growing influence of postmodern hedonist secularism," which is seen as dramatically eroding the traditional values of the predominantly Catholic continent.
-- Marriage and the family, which the pope said show "signs of yielding under the pressure of lobbies" that push for legislative changes and which are threatened by the increase in divorce, cohabitation and adultery.
-- Economic injustice and the fight against poverty, along with the growing phenomenon of migration, which also impacts family unity.
The pope is well aware that many Latin American bishops believe the church stands at a turning point after losing ground in recent decades.
At the last Synod of Bishops in 2005, the pope listened as Brazilian Cardinal Claudio Hummes told the assembly that in Brazil -- the most populous Catholic country in the world -- the number of Catholics was declining by about 1 percent each year, with many lost to Protestant sects.