Pope Francis on Wednesday warned Latin America against legalizing narcotics and urged courage in the face of deadly drug violence as he met addicts in a Brazilian hospital.
The scourge of drug trafficking, which favours violence and sows the seeds of suffering and death, requires of society as a whole an act of courage, Francis said as rain fell on the Saint Francis hospital.
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, he said on the third day of his weeklong trip to Brazil for a Catholic youth festival.
Francis said that a ‘friendly hand’ and hope were essential to overcome the drugs problem that must be addressed in its causes: a life dedicated to simple values of virtue, courage and much hope. But he warned the addicts “the steep road to recovery can only be climbed by you, with hope, never give up hope”.
Hours earlier, Latin America's first pope urged Catholics to reject ephemeral idols such as money, power and success as he led mass at a revered shrine in neighbouring Sao Paulo state.
Drug violence has killed more than 70,000 people in Mexico alone since 2006, while narco-trafficking continues unabated across the region, fuelling calls for a rethink of the US-backed war on drugs.
Guatemala's president has called for the legalization of drugs, a vision shared by ex-presidents in Brazil, Mexico and Colombia but opposed by the US and Mexican governments.
Uruguayan President Jose Mujica has proposed legalizing marijuana in his country.
But the pope said society must fight the underlying problems of drug use by promoting greater justice, educating young people in the values that build up life in society, accompanying those in difficulty and giving them hope for the future.
The Pope’s statements come when OAS Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza is on an official visit to Uruguay and Paraguay to formally present the Report of the drugs problem in the Americas, a much debated and awaited paper which is seen as the kick-off for a continental discussion on changing the current repressive policies for possibly some degree of legalization.
Francis on Wednesday flew to Sao Paulo to the basilica of our Lady of Aparecida, Brazil’s patroness which congregated hundreds of thousands despite dreadful cold and rainy weather. On Thursday, the pope will visit a slum and then address hundreds of thousands of young Catholics on Copacabana beach.