Pope rallies Brazil faithful, but president is unmoved on abortion

By staff writers
May 11, 2007

On the second day of his visit to Brazil, the world's largest primarily Catholic country, Pope Benedict XVI has held a private meeting with President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

Significantly, despite the Vatican's desire to address the divisive issue of abortion, with possible threats of excommunication against politicians unwilling to criminalize it, the issue was not on the agenda of the presidential talks.

"There was not a word about abortion or condoms," Brazil's ambassador to the Vatican, Vera Machado, told reporters after the meeting yesterday.

At the start of his five-day visit, the Pope sparked controversy by stressing his strong opposition to all abortion, in a country where activists are currently pushing for the legalisation of terminations. They say choice is the only way to stop the unecessary deaths of women.

President Lula, who has strong support from grassroots Catholics, says he regards decriminalizing abortion as a public health issue, leaving the choice about moral concerns to those directly involved. The World Health Organisation estimates that illegal abortions numbered more than a million in Brazil last year alone.

Today (11 May 2007) the pontiff will lead prayers around Sao Paulo. He is also addressing tens of thousands of young people in a ceremony being held at a major football stadium. Around 41,000 people were invited to the Pacaembu arena but officials anticipated 100,000 more to gather outside.

On Sunday Benedict will give an address to open Latin American bishops' conference at Aparecida.

Scheduled for later this week, the Pope's first open-air Mass at Sao Paulo's Campo de Marte airport on Friday is expected to attract one million people.

Shortly after being greeted by the president at Sao Paulo's airport on Wednesday, Pope Benedict stressed the need to respect life "from the moment of conception until natural death".

But Brazil's Health Minister, Jose Gomes Temperao, is adamant that the Church should not interfere in Brazil's abortion debate. "You can't impose the precepts and dogma of a particular religion on an entire society." Mr Temperao declared.

"Church and state have been separate in Brazil for centuries," he added.

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