In his final speech before boarding a plane for Rome, Pope Benedict blamed both Marxism and unbridled capitalism for Latin America's problems on Sunday, urging bishops to mold a new generation of Roman Catholic leaders in politics to reverse the church's declining influence in the region, the UK Guardian reports.
Like his predecessor Pope John Paul II, Benedict criticised capitalism's negative effects as well as the Marxist influences that have motivated some grass-roots Catholic activists.
"The Marxist system, where it found its way into government, not only left a sad heritage of economic and ecological destruction, but also a painful destruction of the human spirit," he said in his opening address at a two-week bishops' conference in Brazil's holiest shrine city aimed at re-energising the church's influence in Latin America.
Touching on a sensitive historical episode, Benedict said Latin American Indians had been "silently longing" to become Christians when Spanish and Portuguese conquerors took over their native lands centuries ago.
"In effect, the proclamation of Jesus and of his Gospel did not at any point involve an alienation of the pre-Columbus cultures, nor was it the imposition of a foreign culture," he said.
Many Indians, however, say the conquest of Latin America by Catholic Spaniards and Portuguese lead to misery, enslavement and death.
The pope also warned of unfettered modern-day capitalism and globalisation, blamed by many in Latin America for a deep divide between the rich and poor. The pope said it could give "rise to a worrying degradation of personal dignity through drugs, alcohol and deceptive illusions of happiness".
But Reuters reports that outraged Indian leaders in Brazil said on Monday they were offended by Pope Benedict's "arrogant and disrespectful" comments that the Roman Catholic Church had purified them and a revival of their religions would be a backward step.
The pope also warned that legalised contraception and abortion in Latin America threaten "the future of the peoples" and said the historic Catholic identity of the region is under assault.
"It's arrogant and disrespectful to consider our cultural heritage secondary to theirs," said Jecinaldo Satere Mawe, chief coordinator of the Amazon Indian group Coiab.
Several Indian groups sent a letter to the Pope last week asking for his support in defending their ancestral lands and culture. They said the Indians had suffered a "process of genocide" since the first European colonisers had arrived.
Even the Catholic Church's own Indian advocacy group in Brazil, known as Cimi, distanced itself from the pope.
"The pope doesn't understand the reality of the Indians here, his statement was wrong and indefensible," Cimi advisor Fr Paulo Suess told Reuters. "I too was upset."
Meanwhile, reports in Rome say that Pope Benedict has received an invitation to visit China later this year - possibly in September - Adnkronos quotes Vatican sources as saying.
Speaking on condition of anonymity the sources said the pontiff had received the invitation from the organisers of an art exhibition "Leanardo da Vinci at Tienanmen".
If the visit were to take place it could mark a major breakthrough in relations between the Vatican and Beijing's Communist authorities.
Pope Assails Marxism, Capitalism (Guardian, 14/5/07)
Brazil's Indians offended by Pope comments (Reuters, 14/5/07)
Vatican: Pope receives invite to visit China, sources say (Ad Kronos International, 14/5/07)
LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Catholic Church in Brazil (Catholic â€“Hierarchy)
Green pope says save Amazon (CathNews, 14/5/07)
Latin America "continent of hope", Benedict believes (CathNews, 14/5/07)
Benedict backs excommunication for pro-abortion pollies (CathNews, 10/5/07)
15 May 2007