The International Herald Tribune reports that the pope will make his first pilgrimage to Latin America in an effort to strengthen a church battling to retain its predominant role in the region.
Pope Benedict will open the once-a-decade meeting of bishops from throughout Latin America in the shrine city of Aparecida, near Sao Paulo.
Speaking in Portuguese and Spanish at his weekly public audience in St Peter's Square, the German-born pope said he hoped the meeting would serve as a "stimulus to the disciples of Christ" and that it be would blessed with "abundant fruits."
While the pope is expected to draw hundreds of thousands of people at several open-air Masses, including the canonization ceremony for Brazil's first native saint, the focus will be on his directions for countering the growing influence of evangelical Protestants as well as what the Vatican denounces as such secular trends as the recent legalization of abortion in Mexico City.
Nearly half the world's 1.2 billion Catholics live in Latin America but millions have defected in recent years in what the Vatican-based Brazilian Cardinal Claudio Hummes recently referred to as a "hemorrhage".
The 9-14 May pilgrimage will be the first lengthy trip as pope for Benedict, who turned 80 last month.
Photo: Pope Benedict XVI at the end of his weekly general audience yesterday in Saint Peter's Square. Source: Reuters.
Pope urges prayers of support for his trip to Brazil (International Herald Tribune, 2/5/07)
Visiting Pope steps into abortion battle in Brazil (Reuters, 2/5/07)
LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Catholic Church in Brazil (Catholic –Hierarchy)
Benedict gets kangaroo slippers and a recyclable throne (CathNews, 24/4/07)
3 May 2007