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Last Updated: Monday, 14 May 2007, 01:43 GMT 02:43 UK
Pope's Brazil tour: Diary Day Five
Pope Benedict XVI has completed his first official visit to the Americas, with a trip to Brazil. BBC Rome correspondent David Willey has been travelling with the Pontiff and recording his thoughts in a daily diary.


Pope warns of 'authoritarian ideologies'

Pope Benedict XVI flew back to Rome tonight from Sao Paulo International airport after monopolising the newspaper headlines and TV news with his speeches and masses for almost an entire week.

But he left many Paulistas scratching their heads as to what he had actually achieved.

Pope Benedict XVI
The Pope warned of "authoritarian forms of government"
The majority of local residents I have talked to in recent days felt that this whirlwind visit will be quickly forgotten.

Already this teeming and wealthy mega-city is quickly returning to its normal, rather frenetic business rhythms.

Certainly the image of a kindly and benevolent pastor which Pope Benedict smilingly projected during the whole of his five-day stay here managed to sweep away the prejudiced picture that many Brazilian Catholics had.

His image was previously that of a cold, stern and conservative disciplinarian locked away in his Vatican office for the past quarter of a century, dispensing punishments for heresy just like in the bad old days of the Inquisition.

The leading daily O Estado De Sao Paulo ran a simple two word banner headline under a picture of a smiling Benedict with his arms outstretched: PAPAL THAW.

The newspaper pointed out that this eminent theologian and distinguished doctor of the church had spoken the language of the poor, had kissed the faithful, and embraced the multitudes.

He had won hearts and minds by denouncing Latin America's drug traffickers when he visited a rehab centre near Sao Paulo and had come face to face with the human tragedies caused by the criminal gangs who run the immensely lucrative international narcotics trade.

A local sociology professor Jose de Souza Martins said the Pope had been "drinking from the waters of the same fountain as that which quenched the thirst of the Liberation Theologians of three decades ago".

Crowd at the opening mass of the conference of Latin American Bishops in Aparecida
Brazilians seem to have warmed to the new Pope
The Pope was facing up to the problem of defining the future role of his church in increasingly fragmented societies on both sides of the Atlantic, de Souza Martins said.

But whereas in rapidly secularising Europe the fragmentation is the result of growing wealth and abundance of material goods, here in Brazil, the professor argued, it is the result of poverty and deprivation.

My mind suddenly went back 23 years to that blazing hot day in Rome when I had covered the story of the summoning to the Vatican of Leonardo Boff, one of the Brazilian founding fathers of Liberation Theology.

He met with the press in Saint Peter's Square, moments after he had been summarily sacked and told to recant, when he came before a one-man church tribunal consisting of the then head of the Holy Office, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.

The sentence, from which there was no appeal, was for having written a book considered subversive and dangerous to the faithful.

Boff was branded a dangerous Marxist, and his explanation why Christians should be politically and socially active and involved in bringing about real salvation from oppressors in this world rather than await possible salvation in the next, was rejected out of hand by the icy theological professor.

Ratzinger had been charged by his boss Pope John Paul II, who was only too familiar from his Polish experiences with the damage caused by Marxism, to root out potentially dangerous Marxists anywhere else in the Catholic world.

Pope Benedict XVI
The Pope celebrated several large open-air masses
Boff was, understandably, quite devastated by what he considered his unfair punishment by the future Pope.

I thought he seemed to be on the edge of a nervous breakdown, and I later learned that indeed he did collapse on the doorstep of a mutual friend in Britain, another former priest, who provided him with a welcome refuge from the hostile Catholic world.

Well, guess what? In May 2007 Leonardo Boff is still alive and active in Brazil, although he long ago gave up his priestly functions.

And in a leading article in the same newspaper from which I quoted above, showed he has still not recovered from the going-over he received from Joseph Ratzinger.

Boff calls Ratzinger's language "medieval".

And he has little time for the achievements of the late Pope John Paul II either, finding him guilty of "smothering creativity, and reducing ecclesiastical life to mediocrity and infantility".

Harsh words indeed!

"Attempting to re-evangelise Europe," Boff wrote, "Ratzinger represents an ageing church receding into the twilight with signs of irremediable spiritual decadence."

"More than half the world's Catholics live in the developing world and 42% of them are here in Latin America. The future of Christianity is here, not in Rome!"

Addressing the Bishops of Latin America only a few hours before boarding his plane to Rome, Pope Benedict gave his reasons why he still believes the Liberation Theologians were, and are mistaken.

"If the Catholic Church were to become a political subject she would do less, not more, for the poor and for justice, because she would lose her independence and moral authority," Benedict said.

The pope also warned that the Marxist bogey has not entirely vanished.

Without naming names he expressed concern in the face of what he called "authoritarian forms of government wedded to certain ideologies that we thought had been superseded".

In other words, beware of Hugo Chavez!


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