~from Reuters: Pope walks in predecessor's shadow
Pope Benedict won some friends on his first trip to Latin America, home to almost half the world's Roman Catholics, but he could not escape tough comparisons to his charismatic predecessor, Pope John Paul.
Everywhere the Pope went on his five-day visit to Brazil, the Catholic faithful reminisced about John Paul, who charmed them time and again at huge masses or strolling through impoverished slums.
The comparisons began as soon as Pope Benedict's plane landed in Sao Paulo on Wednesday, when he disappointed some by walking straight to an official greeting instead of kneeling to kiss the ground, as John Paul used to do.
He later met with recovering drug addicts, even hugging one of them, and led two open-air masses that drew hundreds of thousands of people.
But the turnouts were lower than expected, a reflection of the Church's declining influence in Latin America and also of the weaker star appeal of the German-born Pontiff, a naturally conservative and timid man.
"I miss the previous pope, this one is just keeping the seat warm," said Maria Jose Santos, a 79-year-old Catholic who traveled for four days to attend Pope Benedict's mass on Sunday in the shrine city of Aparecida.
Pope John Paul was also a conservative and there has been little change in the Vatican's message promoting traditional values and attacking the hedonism of modern society.
"In the end, they both speak the same language," said Nathalia Dos Reis, a 45-year-old cleaner who also attended Sunday's mass and had praise for the Pope. "He spoke to young people and he reinforced family values. That is so important."
~from Washington Post: Pope's stern words fail to persuade all Brazilians
Pope Benedict's hard-nosed defense of traditional teachings on his first visit to Latin America inspired conservatives but critics said he was out of touch with reality in a region where the Church is losing influence and followers.
The 80-year-old Pope railed against premarital sex, abortion rights and the rise of Pentecostalism during his five days in Brazil, the world's largest Roman Catholic country.
To expand the Church, bishops must return to traditional proselytizing and resist temptations to offer flashy services to young people or support leftist politics in a region plagued by poverty, he said.
Conservatives commended the Pope for restoring purity to the Church's principles, even if it meant alienating potential newcomers. His detractors called him hopelessly out of touch in a time of globalization, gay marriage and AIDS.
"The Catholic population in Latin America will continue to disagree with church norms that are impossible to put into practice -- like not using condoms or having premarital sex," said Maria Jose Rosado-Nunes, professor of sociology at Sao Paulo's Catholic University.
Brazil's government hands out millions of free condoms each year to help prevent the spread of AIDS under a program lauded by the United Nations. The Catholic Church tells young people they should practice abstinence -- a stance critics call dangerous and unrealistic.
"The position of the Church on the use of condoms is criminal," Fernando de Barros e Silva, a columnist for the Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper, said on Monday.
The Pope's efforts to reinforce traditional values could push even more people out of the Church in Latin America, home to almost half of the world's Catholics, but conservatives said commitment to the Church's roots is more important than the number of faithful.