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Last Updated: Friday, 11 May 2007, 20:12 GMT 21:12 UK
Pope's Brazil tour: Diary Day Three
Pope Benedict XVI is making his first official visit to the Americas, with a trip to Brazil. BBC Rome correspondent David Willey is covering the visit and recording his thoughts in a daily diary.

DAY THREE: FRIDAY 11 MAY 2007

Abortion in Brazil

"Brazil is a very Catholic country," my taxi driver reminded me, as if I might have forgotten this pretty basic fact, on my way to write my diary as the Pope's Mass got under way.

Aerial view of the open-air Mass celebrated by Pope Benedict XVI
Believers from across Latin America gathered in Sao Paulo
Hundreds of thousands of Brazilians - the young, the middle-aged and the old - turned out to celebrate the proclamation by the Pope of their first saint.

The ceremony took place at what used to be Sao Paulo's municipal airport.

In the early days of aviation, the airstrip was on the edge of the city outskirts, but today the runways have been swallowed up by the apparently limitless expansion of what is now the biggest city in the Americas, and the seventh biggest city in the world.

Benedict has been preaching to young people here about the importance of sexual abstinence before marriage. He blames the media for ridiculing virginity.

During the razzmatazz of the song-and-dance show put on by the Church authorities for the Pope's youth rally last night, I decided to carry out my own rather unscientific opinion poll in a bustling shopping mall.

I walked into a fashion shop and spoke to sales assistants Daniela, 21, Juliana, 18, and Paulo, 23, and asked them what they thought about the Pope's visit and his advice.

Daniela, 21
Daniela, 21, said she was too tired to attend Mass on Sundays
They all shrugged their shoulders. Daniela said she might have gone to the youth rally if she had the time, but she works a 52-hour, six-and-a-half-day week and was too tired to go to Mass on Sundays.

Juliana said she was not a Catholic. Paulo said the last time he went to church was eight years ago. All three said they were in favour of changing the law to allow abortion on demand.

I had been shocked to learn from an interview given by President Lula shortly before he welcomed Pope Benedict to his country, that almost a third of Brazilian schoolgirls between the ages of 14 and 17 are out of school because they are pregnant.

Did he remind the Pope about this, I wondered? Did the Pope wag his finger at President Lula about the government handing out free condoms as part of its anti-Aids campaign? Did the head of the Catholic Church and the leader of the world's biggest Catholic nation discuss the possible legalisation of abortion?

The World Health Organization estimates there are more than one million illegal abortions a year in Brazil, causing many deaths and untold misery to women.

I sought the opinion of Professor Maria-Jose Rosado Nunes, who teaches sociology of religion at the Catholic University of Sao Paulo.

Pope Benedict XVI and Brazil's President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva
Pope Benedict held a closed-door meeting with the president
She was delighted that the government had finally spoken out publicly in favour of allowing abortions.

"I am proud that for the first time in the history of our 100-year-old Republic we have a president who can stand up to the Pope and say: 'I am a Catholic but I am also the president of a secular state and need to take into account public health,'" she said.

"Women are dying. A third of our schoolgirls get pregnant before they are 18 years old. Sex and reproductive health education in our schools is almost non existent.

"Social opinion is changing very quickly, taboos are falling, people are now finally talking openly about something that is the day-to-day reality of Brazil.

"The legalisation of abortion is on the public agenda whether the Catholic hierarchy likes it or not," she said.




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