LATIN AMERICA

Pope speaks out against legalization of drugs proposed by some regional leaders

Pontiff calls on youths not to fall into “loneliness and emptiness” of money and power

Pope Francis hugs a recovering drug addict during a visit to a hospital in Rio de Janeiro.
Pope Francis hugs a recovering drug addict during a visit to a hospital in Rio de Janeiro.AFP

Pope Francis on Wednesday took a strong stand against the legalization of narcotics, saying that it was not a strategy to fight drug addiction or trafficking.

During a visit to a hospital in Rio de Janeiro that specializes in treating addicts, the pope said that society “must be courageous” to fight “this drug trafficking plague that only leads to violence and sows sorrow and death.”

"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,” the pope, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, said.

“What must be addressed are the issues that are at the basis of drug use, including promoting greater justice, educating young people in values that build community life, accompanying the needy and giving them hope for the future.”

Pope Francis took on the legalization issue at a time when debate is growing among current and former Latin American leaders, such as Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina.

“There are many situations in Brazil, and around the world, that need attention, care and love, such as the struggle with chemical dependency. However, what often prevails in our society is selfishness. But there many merchants of death who follow the logic of power and money at all cost.”

There are many situations in Brazil, and around the world, that need attention, care and love, such as the struggle with chemical dependency."

The pope is on a week-long visit to Brazil, which will end with the celebration of World Youth Day this weekend.

Speaking in front of a group of recovering addicts, the pope said he wanted to hug them all, but “giving hugs wasn’t enough.” According to the Argentinean-born Bergoglio, people need to extend a hand to those who have fallen into "the abyss of dependence.”

“Perhaps they don’t know how to do it, but they need to say to them: you get up, you can get back on your feet; it will be tough, but only if you really want to you can do it.”

On Tuesday, the pope met with a group of bishops whom he charged with helping him to come up with a series of reforms for the Vatican. But the first official day of his visit to Brazil on Wednesday was filled with symbolism. Before his trip to the San Francisco de Asis Hospital in Rio, Pope Francis celebrated Mass at the National Shrine of Our Lady Aparecida – Brazil’s patron saint – which is located some 260 kilometers from Rio.

During the open-air Mass, the pope said that the Catholic Church should confront, without fear, the challenges of the modern world in a positive way. “We should never lose hope. We should never turn our hearts away from hope. The dragon, evilness, has been part of our history but it is not the strongest. God is stronger and God is our hope.”

He also called on youths to avoid material things.

“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," the 76-year-old pontiff said in Portuguese.

"Often a growing sense of loneliness and emptiness in the hearts of many people leads them to seek satisfaction in these ephemeral idols."

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