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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Pope Uses First Brazil Trip To Urge Against Abortion

SAO PAULO, Brazil -- Pope Benedict XVI stressed church opposition to abortion minutes after arriving in Brazil, expressing confidence that Latin America's Roman Catholic leaders would take a strong stand against it at an important conference during his first papal trip to the region.

A day after Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said he believed abortion was a public health issue, Benedict predicted that the bishops would reinforce "respect for life from the moment of conception until natural death."

Just before Benedict made the comments Wednesday at a ceremony hosted by Lula de Silva at Sao Paulo's airport, one of the president's Cabinet members said a "macho" culture in Brazil had prevented a legitimate debate about legalizing abortion in Latin America's largest nation.

"If men got pregnant, I'm sure this question would have been resolved a long time ago," said Health Minister Jose Gomes Temporao, who is pushing for a referendum on the issue.

Lula de Silva said he was personally opposed to abortion earlier this week in an interview broadcast on Catholic radio stations, and his spokesman said the president does not plan to bring up abortion during a formal meeting with Benedict on Thursday.

Abortion is illegal in Brazil except in cases of rape or when the mother's life is in danger. These cases amount to just 2,000 abortions per year, and polls show Brazilians are overwhelmingly opposed to expanding it.

As many as 20,000 faithful waited in cold rain for a glimpse of Benedict in South America's largest city, then chanted "Bento, Bento" and waved flags as he greeted them in Portuguese and Spanish and blessed them in Latin.