APARECIDA, Brazil — Back in Rio, Francis arrived in a closed car at the simple white and yellow St. Francis of Assisi hospital — named for Francis' namesake, the 13th century friar who renounced a wealthy, dissolute lifestyle to embrace a life of poverty and simplicity. The pope bounded out of the car into a cold rain, not waiting for an umbrella, and greeted a group of people in wheelchairs and well-wishers.
Before the pope spoke, former drug addicts stood up and told their stories — and received an embrace from the pope who listened intently.
The pope then blasted the "dealers of death" who sell drugs and said that the "scourge of drug-trafficking, that favors violence and sows the seeds of suffering and death, requires of society as a whole an act of courage."
"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 pontiff said. "Rather, it is necessary to confront the problems underlying the use of these drugs, 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 rejection of drug legalization ideas raised by some leaders in this region was an unusually political call from Francis, who has tended to steer clear of making pronouncements on touchy issues. He has instead let local bishops speak out themselves.
During his homily in Aparecida, Francis urged Catholics to keep their values of faith, generosity and fraternity.
"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," he said. "Often a growing sense of loneliness and emptiness in the hearts of many people leads them to seek satisfaction in these ephemeral idols."