It is home to almost half the world’s Roman Catholics but the Church’s declining influence in Latin America was all too clear as Pope Benedict’s first visit to the region drew to a close. Some 150,000 pilgrims gathered for an open-air mass in the Brazilian shrine city of Aparecida. However the turnout was far less than the 500,000 people expected by Church officials – an indication of the difficult times it faces in the world’s largest Catholic nation.
“Faith in the love of God is the most valuable treasure of the Latin American continent,” the pontiff told those gathered. Yet millions in Brazil have defected to evangelical churches.
Before leaving the country, the Pope opened a bishops’ conference where he criticized what he called “authoritarian governments” in Latin America and decried the growing gap between rich and poor in the region.