RIO DE JANEIRO: Pope Francis has warned Latin America against legalizing drugs, arguing in sharply worded and highly political remarks that liberal policies under consideration in his home region will not reduce the problem.
The Argentine-born pontiff delved into the hot topic on Wednesday (Thursday in Manila) after celebrating the first public mass of his week-long visit to Brazil, in which he has sought to deliver a message of hope to the poor and vulnerable.
He drew a line against drugs as he met crack addicts and inaugurated a rehabilitation ward at a Rio de Janeiro hospital run by Franciscan monks.
“The scourge of drug trafficking, which favors violence and sows the seeds of suffering and death, requires of society as a whole an act of courage,” Francis said as rain fell on the Saint Francis hospital.
“A reduction in the spread and influence of drug addiction will not be achieved by a liberalization of drug use, as is currently being proposed in various parts of Latin America,” he said on the third day of his trip
Hours earlier, the 76-year-old pope, in Brazil for a Catholic youth festival, urged Catholics to reject “ephemeral idols” such as money, power and success as he led mass at the country’s most revered shrine.
Drug violence has killed more than 70,000 people in Mexico alone since 2006, while narcotrafficking continues unabated across Latin America, fueling calls for a rethink of the US-backed “war on drugs.”
Guatemala’s president has called for legalization, a vision shared by ex-presidents in Brazil, Mexico and Colombia but opposed by the United States and Mexican governments.
Uruguayan President Jose Mujica has proposed legalizing marijuana in his country.
But the pope said society must fight the underlying problems of drug use by “promoting greater justice, educating young people in the values that build up life in society, accompanying those in difficulty and giving them hope for the future.”
Latin America’s first pope visited the hospital after flying back from a mass at the Shrine of Our Lady Aparecida in neighboring Sao Paulo state, where more than 200,000 people braved the cold rain to greet him.
After entering the basilica, the visibly moved pontiff held a statue of the dark-skinned Virgin of Aparecida, Brazil’s patroness whom Francis himself reveres.
“It is true that nowadays, to some extent, everyone, including our young people, feels attracted by the many idols which take the place of God and appear to offer hope: money, success, power, pleasure,” he said.
“Often a growing sense of loneliness and emptiness in the hearts of many people leads them to seek satisfaction in these ephemeral idols,” the homily added.
The Catholic leader is seeking to re-energize the faithful during his first overseas trip since his election earlier this year.