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Pope Benedict Stresses New Solutions to Social, Economic Problems

Pope Benedict is pressing church leaders in Latin America to seek new solutions for social and economic problems. In Sao Paulo, VOA's Brian Wagner reports the call comes ahead of a conference of Latin American and Caribbean bishops.

Pope Benedict traveled to a recovery facility for drug addicts on the fourth day of his visit to Brazil. He delivered a speech to a crowd of pilgrims and former patients at the drug clinic, which also has facilities in Russia, Mozambique, Mexico and other nations.

The speech came ahead of a meeting with regional church leaders to discuss the goals of an upcoming conference of Latin American and Caribbean bishops. Pope Benedict is expected to press bishops during the meeting Sunday to find new ways to resolve such problems as crime, drug addiction, and widespread poverty.

Friday, the pontiff outlined his concerns during a speech to some 300 Brazilian bishops at a cathedral in Sao Paulo, where he urged them to take a greater role in combating problems caused by poverty and disparities in income.

He says church leaders should 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 rising number of divorces in Brazil, as well as what he called attacks on the sanctity of marriage and the family. He criticized legal reforms that he said have a negative effect on society, such as recent measures in some countries to allow abortion or same-sex unions.

The pope said bishops also had a responsibility to work with the government and business sectors to promote Christian values.

He called on the bishops to help bring about a spirit of truthfulness and honesty among the nation's political and business leaders.

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 in 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 trip to Brazil, Pope Benedict has also called for greater efforts to improve Catholic education in the region, in part to counter the spread of Evangelical Protestant congregations.