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Pope Benedict in Brazil: Thursday roundup May 11, 2007

Pope Benedict XVI met with Brazilian President Luis Inacio "Lula" da Silva and with leaders of other religious groups during his first full day in Brazil, May 10.

In his 40-minute meeting with the Pontiff, the Brazilian political leader Silva stressed that he wants to maintain and strengthen the secular character of Brazil. Lula did, however, acknowledge that religion has an important role to play in social matters.

The Pope also appeared at the presentation of a stamp printed by the Brazilian postal service to commemorate the papal visit. Two million copies of the 90-cent stamps are available. The stamp includes a picture of the Pontiff with the Marian shrine of Aparecida in the background.

Later Pope Benedict held a short meeting with the leaders of other religious groups at the Sao Bento monastery where he is staying during his vist to Sao Paulo. Participants in the encounter included Lutheran, Anglican, Presbyterian, and Reformed ministers; a rabbi, and a sheikh. The Holy Father and the rabbi exchanged blessings, and afterward Rabbi Henry Sobel remarked: “It’s not every day that the Pope blesses a rabbi.”

The last major event of the Pope's schedule for Thursday was a mass meeting with young people in a Sao Paulo soccer stadium. (See today's separate CWN headline story.) He returned to the Sao Bento monastery to spend the night.

In related news, in an interview with the Italian television channel La7, the prominent liberation theologian Leonardo Boff stated: “Liberation theology exists and is winning. Even if it is not visible as before, its theories are the common patrimony of the Church in Latin America."

Boff, a former Franciscan priest whose writings have drawn warnings from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, went on to say: "Benedict XVI is a difficult Pope to love, if we see him from the point of view of divorced people, homosexuals, and minorities who want a more flexible liturgy of the Church. I respect him as a great intellectual, but here in Brazil, he will have to keep his eyes open to the reality."

Also, a survey conducted by economist Marcelo Neri of the Getulio Vargas Foundation found that after years of decline, the Catholic proportion of Brazil's population is holding steady. "The data is surprising," the researcher said. "The number of Brazilians who declare themselves Catholic, having decreased by 1% for the last two decades, has now stabilized."

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