Pope Benedict has left Rome for a five-day trip to Brazil, his first to Latin America. The Pope’s official business is to canonize Brazil’s first saint and make the keynote address at a conference of bishops from Latin America and the Caribbean. Huge crowds are expected to welcome the Pontiff on his visit to the country with the world’s largest Catholic population.
But their fervour will not hide concern in the Vatican that the Catholic church is losing its grip in the region. The greater mission, churchmen and experts say, is to reaffirm church teaching and stem the loss of millions who have turned away from the faith to embrace Protestant groups. Many priests and politicians are waiting to see what guidance he will give regarding social action on a continent marked by widespread poverty and deprivation.