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Pope Opens Tour of Latin America in Brazil

Pope Benedict XVI has arrived in Brazil for a five-day visit that includes meetings with President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and with church leaders from across Latin America. In Sao Paulo, VOA's Brian Wagner reports the pope also is expected to use his public appearances to address key social problems facing the region.

Pope Benedict's visit to Sao Paulo, opens his five-day trip to Latin America. On his arrival here, he was greeted at the airport by President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and his wife, Brazilian officials, and the Catholic bishops of the country.

Mr. da Silva said the Catholic Church has long shared many of the social values that are important to Brazil's population, especially the need for strong families.

He said both his government and the church shared a genuine concern to strengthen family life, as a key component in community development.

Speaking in Portuguese, Pope Benedict thanked the Brazilian leader for the warm welcome. He said the Catholic church plays a special role in the region, especially in helping to encourage young people to become future leaders.

The pope said the majority of Latin America's population is Catholic, and therefore the region had a responsibility to work to improve solidarity and defend the common good of society.

Thousands of youths from across the country and other parts of Latin America traveled to Sao Paulo this week to welcome Pope Benedict and celebrate his message to the region.

The pontiff is to address the youth at a stadium in the city on Thursday. He is expected to talk to them about crime, violence and economic and social development. His predecessor, Pope John Paul II addressed many of the same topics when he visited Brazil 10 years ago, and some church members say that social conditions have not improved greatly since then.

Robson Monteiro, a young Brazilian Catholic who traveled two days by bus to see the pope, says he hopes the visit will revive interest among church members to make social changes.

He says unfortunately conditions in Brazil returned to how they were before Pope John Paul's visit. But he says the trip by Benedict will rejuvenate church members and strengthen their wills.

The pontiff is expected to speak on his trip to Latin American bishops, in part to express concern about the rising numbers of conversions to other faiths and religious movements. Catholic church leaders have struggled in recent years to stop the defections, especially within poor communities.

One Brazilian Catholic, Aucilio do Nascimento says the situation in Brazil is no different.

Do Nascimento says he sees the Catholic church losing some of its members to Protestant churches in Brazil. He says the changes have created divisions in the religious community.

On Friday, Pope Benedict is to canonize an 18th century Brazilian-born Franciscan monk, known as Frei Galvao. Some observers say the ceremony to name the first Brazilian-born saint may spark new interest in the Roman Catholic church.