Day One: Aside from abortion furor, pope hits all the expected notes

Day One: Pope hits all the expected notes

By JOHN L. ALLEN JR.
São Paulo, Brazil

Aside from comments on the papal plane about communion for pro-choice politicians, Benedict XVI’s other remarks on day one of his May 9-13 Brazil trip hit all the expected notes.

In his address at São Paulo’s Guarulhos Airport, where the pope was greeted by President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and other dignitaries, the pope called for a “renewed missionary impetus to this continent” and for protection of human life from conception to natural death, and committed the church to defending “the poor and abandoned.”

Though Benedict did not spell out the implications, each brief exhortation in his welcome address had as its subtext one or another of the front-burner challenges facing Roman Catholicism in Latin America.

His call for a “missionary impulse,” for example, at least in part refers to the significant losses the Catholic Church has sustained in recent years to Pentecostal and Evangelical Protestants. His insistence upon protection of human life, as well as a later reference to the family as the “basic cell of society,” comes in the context of moves in several Latin American legislatures, including Brazil, to loosen legal restrictions on abortion and to grant civil recognition to same-sex unions.

Finally, the pope’s invocation of a “future of peace and hope for all,” his commitment of the church to “evangelization at the service of the cause of peace and justice,” as well as his promise that the church will be in solidarity with “the poor and abandoned,” all were meant to reassure wary Brazilian Catholics that the “option for the poor” is alive and well in this pontificate.

Because then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger led the Vatican’s crackdown on liberation theology during the 1980s, some Brazilian Catholics committed to social engagement viewed his election, and now his arrival on their shores, with some apprehension. Benedict is thus doing everything he can to assure them, and to assure the broader societies of Latin America, that his concern with Catholic fundamentals does not mean a reduced commitment to the church’s social role.

Benedict wasted no time indicating that he wants Brazilian Catholics to stay engaged on behalf of the poor.

“In this geographical area, Catholics are in the majority,” the pope said today in São Paulo. “This means they must make a particular contribution to the common good of the nation. The word solidarity will acquire its full meaning when the living forces of society, each in its own sphere, commit themselves seriously to building a future of peace and hope for all.”

“I am well aware that the soul of this people, as of all of Latin America, safeguards values that are radically Christian, which will never be eradicated,” the pope said. “I am certain at Aparecida, during the Bishops’ General Conference, this identity will be reinforced through the promotion of respect for life from the moment of conception until natural death as an integral requirement of human nature. It will also make the promotion of the human person the axis of solidarity, especially towards the poor and abandoned.”

The church, the pope said, “will not fail to take action to ensure that the family, the basic cell of society, is strengthened, and likewise young people, whose formation is a decisive factor for the future of any nation.”


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