Pope assails capitalism, Marxism in address to Latin American bishopsAPARECIDA, Brazil (AP) - Pope Benedict on Sunday blamed both Marxism and unbridled capitalism for Latin America's problems, urging bishops to mould a new generation of Roman Catholic leaders in politics to reverse the church's declining influence in the region.
Before boarding a plane for Rome at the end of a five-day trip to the most populous Roman Catholic country in the world, Benedict also warned legalized contraception and abortion in Latin America threaten "the future of the peoples" and said the historic Roman Catholic identity of the region is under assault.
Like his predecessor Pope John Paul II, Benedict criticized capitalism's negative effects, as well as the Marxist influences that have motivated some grass-roots Roman Catholic activists.
"The Marxist system, where it found its way into government, not only left a sad heritage of economic and ecological destruction but also a painful destruction of the human spirit," he said in his opening address at a two-week bishops' conference in Brazil's holiest shrine city aimed at re-energizing the church's influence in Latin America.
Benedict said Latin American native people had been "silently longing" to become Christians when Spanish and Portuguese conquerors took over their lands centuries ago, though many were enslaved and killed.
"In effect, the proclamation of Jesus and of his Gospel did not at any point involve an alienation of the pre-Columbus cultures, nor was it the imposition of a foreign culture," he said.
He also warned of unfettered capitalism and globalization, blamed by many in Latin America for a deep divide between the rich and poor. The Pope said it could give "rise to a worrying degradation of personal dignity through drugs, alcohol and deceptive illusions of happiness."
Benedict, speaking in Spanish and Portuguese to the bishops, also said Latin America needs more dedicated Catholics in leadership positions in politics, the media and at universities. And he said the church's leaders must halt a trend that has seen millions of Catholics turn into born-again Protestants or simply stop going to church.
While Brazil is home to more than 120 million of the world's 1.1 billion Catholics, the census shows that people calling themselves Catholics fell to 74 per cent in 2000 from 89 per cent in 1980. Those calling themselves evangelical Protestants rose to 15 per cent from seven.
"It is true that one can detect a certain weakening of Christian life in society overall," Benedict said, blaming secularism, hedonism and proselytizers for other sects.
In Aparecida and at events earlier this week in Sao Paulo that attracted more than one million people, Benedict roundly denounced immorality in a bid to counter the rising tide of Latin Americans flouting the church's prohibition on premarital sex and divorce.
Now, he said, the bishops must convince Catholics from all walks of life "to bring the light of the Gospel into public life, into culture, economics and politics."
Benedict did not name any countries in his criticism of capitalism and Marxism, but Latin America has become deeply divided in recent years amid a sharp political tilt to the left - with the election of leftist leaders in Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua and the overwhelming re-election in Venezuela of President Hugo Chavez, an avowed socialist.
Other countries, such as Brazil, have centre-left leaders who have come under heavy criticism for embracing free-market economic policies that have widened the rift between rich and poor.
Before addressing the bishops, Benedict said mass before 150,000 faithful in front of the mammoth basilica of Aparecida, home to the nation's patron saint, a black Virgin Mary. As hundreds of choir members sang hymns and people waved flags from all over South America, the Pope called the region the "continent of hope" and said the bishops must be "courageous and effective missionaries" to ensure the strength of the church.
The 80-year-old Pope also said the church needs to work harder to get its message across on the Internet, radio and television - methods used effectively by Protestant congregations attracting legions of followers, particularly in the vast slums ringing Brazil's largest cities.
© The Canadian Press 2007