The Pope in Brazil: some fences to mend

Have papacy, will travel. That seems to be the motto of Pope John Paul II, the most peripatetic Pontiff in history, who this week embarks on the sixth foreign visit of his 18-month-old rule as leader of the Roman catholic Church, Monitor Latin America correspondent James Nelson Goodsell reports.

This time he goes to Brazil, the world's largest and most populous Roman Catholic nation -- yet a country whose people espouse a rather cavalier attitude toward formal religion. Brazilians are clearly more Catholic in name than in practice.

The papacy, however, regards the Brazilian visit as perhaps the most significant of John Paul's travels for just that reason.

The Roman Catholic hierarchy in Rome is deeply worried about the declining influence of the church in Brazil and believes the Pope may be able, in his 12 -day visit, to arrest this decline.

Ironically, if anything does stem the decline, it may well be the growing social activism of church leaders in Brazil -- an activism that Pope John Paul opposes.

Meanwhile, an even sharper church-state clash is brewing over the issue of birth control. The government is planning a nationwide family-planning program to slow the 3.5-percent-a-year increase in population. This pits the government against the church, and Pope John Paul is likely to have a lot to say against artificial methods of birth control.

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