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Pope Francis warns against decriminalizing drugs during Rio visit

The pontiff has called on South Americans to resist decriminalizing drugs. Tackling the cause of drug addiction - not facilitating access to substances - will end the tyranny of traffickers, he says.

During a visit to the new rehabilitation ward of a Rio de Janeiro hospital, the Argentine-born pontiff addressed the problems drug trafficking has caused Latin American countries.

"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," Pope Francis said.

Guatemala and other countries have expressed increasing frustration at the ineffectiveness of the US-led war on drugs. As a solution they have begun considering a policy of decriminalization or legalization as a public health measure and a way to curb violence and corruption inflicted on their communities by drug traffickers. The US and Mexico remain opposed to these measures.

"It is necessary to confront the problems underlying the use of these drugs by promoting greater justice, educating young problem in the values that build up life in society, accompanying those in difficulty and giving them hope for the future," the pope added.

'Many idols' leading flock astray

The pope, who has shunned the grandeur traditionally afforded his title and focused his message on social justice and the virtues of simplicity, said a public Mass on Wednesday, the first main highlight of his weeklong visit to Brazil for the Catholic World Youth Day festivities. He gave this first Mass of his first official foreign trip at the Shrine of the Virgin Mary at Aparecida to the thousands who had packed into the Basilica, and tens of thousands more outside.

Watch video 01:55

Francis celebrates first Brazil Mass

Aparecida, situated about halfway between Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, and known as one of Latin America's most popular pilgrimage sites, houses a shine of the Virgin Mary who is venerated as the patroness of Brazil. Following a rapturous welcome at the Basililca, Francis called on the pilgrims to resist the "ephemeral idols" of money, power and pleasure to help build a better world.

"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 pope said.

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

Francis urged Catholics to keep their values of faith, generosity and fraternity. He said young people should be "a powerful engine for the church and for society" and be given the tools to "work actively in building a better world."

Security at Aparecida appeared much more organized than the detail that greeted him on his arrival in Brazil on Monday, when crowds surrounded his car. Following Wednesday's Mass, Francis was due to fly back to Rio and tour a drug treatment ward at a hospital run by Franciscan monks.

The main purpose of Francis' visit to Brazil is attend the Roman Catholic World Youth Day festival. The highlight of the five-day festival will be a prayer service, led by Pope Francis, on Rio's Copacabana Beach on Thursday.

kms/mkg (AP, AFP, Reuters)

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