Pope's Brazil Visit Puts Social Justice in Spotlight
Morning Edition, May 8, 2007 · Pope Benedict XVI makes his first foray to Latin America this week, staging a five-day visit to Brazil, the world's largest Roman Catholic country. The pontiff will hold an outdoor mass for youth, canonize Brazil's first homegrown saint, and address the Latin Bishops Conference.
The pope arrives in the region a generation after liberation theology held sway over much of Latin America. The school of theology advanced by the Jesuits put the struggle for economic and social justice at the core of the church's mission, placing it in direct confrontation with the military dictatorships of the time.
As the defender of the faith in the 1980s, Pope Benedict, then Cardinal Ratzinger, showed his displeasure with the followers of liberation theology, singling out Brazil's leading proponents. He admonished them for conflating Jesus Christ with Marxism, and engaging the church in a class struggle that he said perverted the traditional doctrine of Christ as the Son of God.
Twenty years later, Brazil's bishops are fierce advocates on behalf of the poor who inhabit the Amazon, and once again Brazilian bishops and priests find themselves in direct opposition to the logging, mining and agro-business interests that are exploiting Amazonian riches.
In the Amazon, liberation theology appears alive and well, and Vatican watchers are keen to see what if anything Pope Benedict has to say to Brazil's independent-minded clergy.