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19/03/2012 | Benedict XVI - Pope to boost faiths, tackle drug wars in Mexico, Cuba – Pontiff hopes to win back Latin Americans

A.F.P.

VATICAN CITY: From the war on drug cartels in Mexico to reviving faith in Cuba, Pope Benedict XVI will address a series of burning issues in his first trip to Spanish-speaking Latin America beginning this week. On his 23rd visit abroad, the pontiff will tackle the declining number of Catholics in the region, the rise of rival religious movements such as Pentecostalists and what the church sees as the threat to family values.

 

The six-day program, starting in Mexico on Friday, takes into account the frailty of the aged pope, who will conduct both political meetings and religious rites focusing on the marian figures of Mexico’s Our Lady of Guadalupe and Cuba’s Our lady of Charity. Benedict, 84, is likely to face criticism over the clerical abuse scandal and the Vatican’s management of Mexico’s most famous offender, Marcial Maciel, the founder of the Legion of Christ, who was accused of molesting eight minors.

The Vatican has already ruled out a meeting with victims of pedophilia. One of the trip highlights will be a large mass next Sunday in front of hundreds of thousands of people in the Bicentennial Park in Leon, which sits at the foot of Cubilete Mountain, the site of the towering Christ the King statue. A reproduction of Our Lady of Guadalupe will be presented to the crowds and Catholics from all 91 of Mexico’s dioceses are expected to attend. Benedict XVI’s globe-trotting predecessor Jean Paul II visited Mexico five times but never made it to Leon. The Vatican chose the site because it is central and 70 percent of the population can travel there in under four hours.

The pope will meet children and faithful in Guanajuato before presiding over vespers in Leon Cathedral with bishops from South and North America. In the overwhelmingly Catholic country-where 83 percent of the population has been baptized-the pope is expected to condemn the drug wars between cartels and security agents which have killed tens of thousands of people. He is also likely to speak about the mass migration of Latin-Americans, particularly from Central America, to the United States. Many fall victim to drug traffickers and there are widespread claims of abuse by border guards.

In Cuba, Benedict XVI hopes to encourage religious fervor in this secular state and a big turnout is expected from the Catholic community-which forms around 10 percent of the populace-at masses in Santiago de Cuba and Havana. This year marks the 400th anniversary of Our Lady of Charity, a statue of Mary found in the sea and Cuba’s patron saint, who is revered for her miracles. The German pope will be visiting the island during a period of reform and will hope to strengthen the regime’s relations with the Church.

In December, President Raul Castro released 2,700 prisoners ahead of the pope’s visit-though only a few were believed to be political dissidents. The pontiff will meet Castro on March 27 at the presidential palace. While a meeting with his brother-the former longtime leader Fidel Castro-has not been scheduled, neither has the Vatican ruled it out. Benedict XVI’s trip to Cuba follows John Paul II’s historic visit in 1998.The late John Paul was seen as an inspiration to bringing down communism in Eastern Europe and urged the Cuban communist regime to open up to the world.

While Joseph Ratzinger will hope to continue in his predecessor’s footsteps, he will have to tread carefully in order to avoid creating friction between the state and the Church, which plays a leading role in the island’s social sector. Nor will he want his message to be used as a tool by the opposition. The Vatican has already said that Benedict XVI will not meet dissident Cubans, some of whom occupied a church last week demanding that the pope push Havana leaders for political freedom during his visit.

Kuwait Times (Kuwait )

 


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