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BRAZIL-PREPARE May-7-2007 (590 words) xxxi

Pope asks Catholics to pray for his visit to 'continent of hope'

By John Thavis
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Benedict XVI asked Catholics to pray for the success of his first visit to Latin America, saying the region represented the "continent of hope" for the church.

The pope, speaking at a noon blessing May 6, dedicated his trip to Mary and said he was preparing spiritually for the important journey.

"It's my first pastoral visit to Latin America ... where almost half the world's Catholics live, many of them young people. This is why it's called the 'continent of hope,' a hope that concerns not only the church but all America and the whole world," he said.

During the May 9-13 visit to Brazil, the pope was to preside over pastoral events in Sao Paulo and open the Fifth General Conference of the Bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean.

The pope prayed that the conference would help Latin American Christians become more aware of their identity as "disciples and missionaries of Christ."

"The challenges of the present moment are many and varied: that's why it is important that Christians be formed to be a 'ferment' of good and a 'light' of holiness in our world," he said.

Brazilian Cardinal Claudio Hummes, who was to accompany the pope on the trip, said he hoped the visit would energize the church in Brazil and give it a new missionary impetus.

The Catholic Church has lost too many members in recent years, especially to Pentecostal sects, Cardinal Hummes said in an interview with the Italian newspaper Avvenire.

"We expect a very strong message of motivation for the missionary nature of the church," he said.

"The church in Latin America has to get out of the parishes and go to meet all the people -- those who have been baptized but have forgotten the church or have been forgotten by the church, Catholics who have been ensnared by the protestant sects, and non-Catholics," he said.

"The church has to once again address itself to all people, and it has to go out into the houses and places of work. It shouldn't wait for people to come back on their own," he said.

Cardinal Hummes, the former archbishop of Sao Paulo who was named last year to head the Vatican's Congregation for Clergy, said the shortage of priests in Latin America was a problem.

But he said he expected the pope to emphasize during his visit that the church's missionary role primarily involves laypeople.

The cardinal warned of recent efforts by politicians and by the media to sideline the church and relegate religion to the private sphere. In Latin America, he said, the state should recognize that it is at the service of a predominantly religious people who want to live religious values.

In that sense, he said, the church in Brazil has opposed efforts to legalize abortion -- a position the cardinal said he expects the pope to underline during his trip.

Cardinal Hummes said he also anticipates strong words from the pope about the poverty throughout Latin America, which he said was partly the result of increased unemployment caused by globalization and "economic neoliberalism."

As for liberation theology, Cardinal Hummes said he did not expect it to be a main topic during the papal visit or the fifth general conference. He said authentic liberation theology had contributed positive things to the church's social teaching, while the more ideological strains are promoted only by a "fringe minority."


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