Pope Benedict XVI has expressed concern about authoritarian governments and Marxist movements in some countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. From Sao Paulo, VOA's Brian Wagner reports the pontiff asked bishops at a regional conference to address challenges to democracy and the church.
Pope Benedict spoke to more than 160 bishops and cardinals meeting near Sao Paulo for the fifth conference of Latin American and Caribbean bishops. He said many things have changed since the regional group last met in 1992 in Dominican Republic to discuss ways to strengthen the Roman Catholic church and defend against challenges to its authority.
Latin America is home to nearly one half of the world's 1.1 billion Catholics.
Pope Benedict welcomed the spread of democracy in Latin America in recent years. But he said some countries in the Western Hemisphere are in danger of regressing to Marxism and authoritarian rule.
He said Marxist-ruled countries have a sad history of economic and environmental destruction, as well as the painful oppression of people's souls.
Pope Benedict called on bishops and other church leaders to stay out of politics, and said both Marxism and capitalism have failed to deliver on their promises of development and equality.
In Latin America, the Vatican has long struggled to maintain its distance from the leftist policies of liberation theology embraced by some priests in Brazil and other Latin American countries.
The pontiff said concerted efforts are needed to address poverty, drug abuse and other social problems across the hemisphere. And he said the church must work with business, political and social leaders to find solutions to inequality.
He said ecclesiastical groups should remind lay people of their responsibility and mission to bring the light of the Gospel into the public, cultural, economic and political sectors.
Pope Benedict also sought to reach out to indigenous and African-American communities that historically have been marginalized by the Roman Catholic church. He said church leaders should reach out to all communities, because each contributes to the rich culture of the Americas.
The meeting of the Latin American and Caribbean bishops conference is expected to last more than two weeks. Pope Benedict returns to Rome late Sunday, ending his first pastoral visit to the Western hemisphere.