Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Pope Benedict departs for Brazil

Pope Benedict XVI exits his personal helicopter as he arrives at Rome's Fiumicino International airport to leave for Brazil May 9, 2007. REUTERS/Dario Pignatelli (ITALY)

~from Earthtimes

Pope Benedict XVI departed from Rome's Fiumicino airport aboard an Alitalia flight Wednesday and headed for Brazil, where he plans to stay until Sunday. The head of the Catholic Church is making his fifth trip abroad, his first to Latin America, since his April 2005 election. In previous trips outside Italy, Benedict visited his native Germany, Poland, Spain and Turkey.

While in Brazil, the pope is scheduled to meet Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, hold an open-air mass in Sao Paulo, visit a drug rehabilitation centre in Guaratingueta and open a conference of bishops from Latin America and the Caribbean.

Some 10,000 officers - including 1,600 army soldiers - are being deployed to protect Benedict, who will be permanently watched by eight officers - four Vatican guards and four members of an elite unit of the Brazil's Federal Police.

The papal pilgrimage comes at a difficult time for the Church in Latin America, where nearly half of the world's 1.1 billion Catholics live, and where more and more people are either abandoning the faith or joining Protestant evangelical groups.

Benedict is accompanied by his secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, as well as several cardinals from South America.

The 80-year-old pope is expected back in Rome on May 14.

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