Ending a five-day trip to the most populous Catholic nation in the world, Benedict also warned that legalized contraception and abortion in Latin America threaten "the future of the peoples" and said the historic Catholic identity of the region is under assault.
Like his predecessor Pope John Paul II, Benedict criticized capitalism’s negative effects as well as the Marxist influences that have motivated some grass-roots Catholic activists.
"The Marxist system, where it found its way into government, not only left a sad heritage of economic and ecological destruction, but also a painful destruction of the human spirit," he said in his opening address at a bishops’ conference in Brazil’s holiest shrine city aimed at re-energizing the church’s influence in Latin America.
He also warned of unfettered capitalism and globalization, blamed by many in Latin America for a deep divide between the rich and poor. The pope said it could give "rise to a worrying degradation of personal dignity through drugs, alcohol and deceptive illusions of happiness."
Benedict, speaking in Spanish and Portuguese to the bishops, also said Latin America needs more dedicated Catholics in leadership positions in politics, the media and at universities. He also said the church’s leaders must halt a trend that has seen millions of Catholics turn into born-again Protestants or simply stop going to church.
While Brazil is home to more than 120 million of the world’s 1.1 billion Catholics, the census shows that people calling themselves Catholics fell to 74 percent in 2000 from 89 percent in 1980. Those calling themselves evangelical Protestants rose to 15 percent from 7 percent.
Before addressing the bishops, Benedict said Mass before 150,000 faithful in front of the mammoth basilica of Aparecida, home to the nation’s patron saint, a black Virgin Mary.