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Pope, in Brazil, urges youth to shun sex, drugs

Pope Benedict XVI, arriving at the Palacio dos Bandeirantes in Sao Paulo yesterday, is visiting Latin America for the first time. He also met with President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. (gregorio borgia /ASSOCIATED PRESS)

SAO PAULO -- Pope Benedict XVI told young Brazilians to avoid sex before marriage and to say no to drugs at a huge rally yesterday in this country renowned for its lusty attitude toward sex.

Young men and women should build their lives around their families and stay faithful to their spouses once married, the pope told the more than 30,000 youths packed into a soccer stadium in Sao Paulo.

"Be promoters of life, from its beginning to its natural end," he said, seated on an elaborately carved red throne.

On his first trip to Latin America since taking office, the pope is reinforcing Roman Catholic teachings against abortion and in support of traditional family values. He is also trying to turn back a tide of defections of Catholics to Protestant groups.

Brazil is the world's most populous Catholic nation, but many ignore church teachings on sex and birth control. The government has upset the Vatican by handing out free condoms.

At the Pacaembu stadium, young men and women sang and danced with typical Brazilian joyfulness to Christian rock music before the 80-year-old pope took to the stage. A priest led thousands in a chant of "Life, yes, abortion, no."

Many teenage couples kissed and groped each other as they waited on the sports field for the pope to arrive.

In a long speech, he urged them to live their lives by a strict moral code and not to waste their youth.

He decried the violence that scars Brazilian society and the high death rate among its youths, the "deplorable proliferation of drugs," and discrimination.

"I send you out, therefore, on the great mission of evangelizing young men and women who have gone astray in this world, like sheep without a shepherd," he said.

Not everyone agreed with his message.

"The church should defend the use of condoms and campaign against promiscuity at the same time. They have to be realistic," said Felipe Silveira, 21, an engineering student from Rio de Janeiro who said he goes to church regularly.

Robson de Campos, 20, took a 16-hour bus ride from Minas Gerais state to attend the rally.

"It's great that he's speaking to young people. So many young people in this country need guidance," he said.

But on the issues of contraception and sex, he said: "It's wrong. The church needs to be more flexible."

The pontiff met earlier with President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.