Pope Francis addressed a group of recovering drug addicts in a working-class neighborhood of Rio, offering them a message of compassion and hope as well as a call to self-determination.
“You have to want to stand up; this is the indispensable condition!” he said Wednesday night as he met crack addicts and inaugurated a drug rehabilitation ward at a Rio hospital run by Franciscan monks. “You will find an outstretched hand ready to help you. … Yours is a long and difficult journey.”
He told the addicts not to despair. “To all of you, I repeat: Do not let yourselves be robbed of hope!” he said, and then repeated it, to more applause. “And not only that, but I say to us all: Let us not rob others of hope, let us become bearers of hope!”
Dressed in his simple white cassock, Francis greeted doctors, nuns, nurses and patients, some waiting in wheelchairs in a driving rain.
Vatican officials said the pope met with 10 recovering addicts from the so-called City of God favela, or slum, made famous in the 2002 movie of the same name, about boys growing up in the violent neighborhood. On Thursday, Francis will venture into another favela, one so poor and dangerous that it is sometimes called the Gaza Strip.
Crack has been a growing problem in Brazil, and the South American nation has recently overtaken the United States as the world’s largest market for the cheap, highly addictive street drug. In San Paulo, Brazil’s biggest city, officials don’t know what to do about the hundreds of zombielike addicts who by night wander a no man’s land known as Cracolandia, or Crackland. Crack in Brazil has become a key issue in local elections. The growing problem of crack in Brazil undermines the progress the nation has made with its growing prosperity and millions of new consumers.
The favelas are often known as hotbeds for drug trafficking and use. In the inner cities, swarms of crack addicts have converted whole city blocks into open air crack markets. Nearly 6 million adults in Brazil have tried crack, and 1 in 100 have used crack in the last year. Though law enforcement is trying to battle the problem of crack in Brazil, they are not making much progress. Addicts throw stones at approaching social workers and psychologists, and children as young as nine or ten are picked up, taken to shelters, and go back to the slums as soon as they are released. Raids clear the streets for a day or two, and then the crack dealers are back. Some political officials are considering drug legalization as a way to fight the growing crack epidemic.
Pope Francis lashed out against drug traffickers and the proposed legalization of drugs in Latin America.
“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,” the pope said, speaking in Portuguese. “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.”
Instead, he said, “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.”
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