Pope Benedict, on a visit to Brazil, has been pressing church leaders to seek new solutions for social and economic problems in Latin America. From Sao Paulo, VOA's Brian Wagner reports that, in a speech on Saturday, the pontiff turned his attention to Latin American drug dealers and lashed out against them.
Pope Benedict traveled to a treatment facility for drug addicts near Sao Paulo, where he issued a strong warning to those who produce and traffic narcotics on the continent. He said God will call drug traffickers to account for their deeds, adding that human dignity cannot be trampled upon in this way.
The pontiff asked traffickers to think about the evil that they are causing to both young people and adults from all sectors of society.
Some former patients at the Farm of Hope also spoke to the crowd, recounting their troubles with drug use. Pope Benedict praised the staff and patients, saying recovering addicts must be ambassadors of hope to the world.
The pontiff also announced a 100-thousand-dollar donation to the clinic, which was founded by a German-born Franciscan friar and has facilities in Russia, Mozambique, Mexico and other nations.
The speech came ahead of a meeting on Sunday with Latin American and Caribbean bishops. Pope Benedict is expected to press the bishops to find new ways to resolve social issues such as drug use, crime and lack of development.
On Friday, the pontiff outlined his concerns during a speech to some 300 Brazilian bishops at a cathedral in Sao Paulo. In the speech, the Pope Benedict urged the bishops to be more active in combating problems caused by unequal income distribution and widespread poverty.
The pope says church leaders are required to view economic and social problems from the point of view of human dignity, and not simply in terms of economic winners and losers.
Pope Benedict also expressed concern about the growing rate of divorce and what he called attacks on the sanctity of marriage and family. He criticized legal reforms that have had, what he called, a negative impact on society, referring to recent changes in some countries allowing abortion or same-sex unions.
The pope said bishops also have a responsibility to work with government and business to promote Christian values, such as honesty and truthfulness.
The pope's message about social and economic development has resonated with many Catholic pilgrims who came to Sao Paulo for the pontiff's visit. High school student Aline Novaro, who traveled from Argentina, says she is concerned about worsening conditions, especially among poor communities.
She says there is a great deal of violence, and many people have little access to education and the church. And she says it is important to pray for improvements in school systems.
During his five-day trip to Brazil, Pope Benedict has called for greater efforts to improve Catholic education in the region, in part to counter the spread of Protestant congregations.