October 05, 1997

Pope Calls Abortion Shame of Humanity

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuter) - Pope John Paul II thundered against abortion Saturday, urging Roman Catholics to fight what he called an abominable crime and the shame of humanity.

The pope, on the penultimate day of a trip to Brazil, used some of the strongest words he ever has against the practice in an address before more than 100,000 people at a rally for family rights at the Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro.

``May the abominable crime of abortion, shame of humanity, not condemn the unborn to the most unjust execution -- that of the most innocent human beings,'' he said.

The pope appeared to be holding up well since he arrived Thursday to preside over an international family rights gathering.

``He is healthy and in good spirits,'' chief Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls told reporters.

At the Saturday night stadium event, the pope conjured up the memory of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, the nun know as ``the Saint of the Gutters'' who died last month after a life of service to the poorest.

Like the pope, the Nobel Peace Prize winner was stridently anti-abortion and the pontiff called on her frequently to attend church rallies against the practice. She had hoped to attend the Rio rally.

``How many times did we hear Mother Teresa's lips proclaim the priceless value of life from the moment of conception in the maternal womb ...,'' the pope said.

``Death has silenced those lips but Mother Teresa's message in favor of life continues to be more vibrant and convincing than ever,'' he told the crowd after listening to couples speak of their problems and hopes.

A light show transformed the stadium, usually a temple to soccer, into a virtual cathedral as simulated stained glass windows appeared before the pope as he delivered his attack on abortion.

Brazil is in the throes of a debate over whether abortion should be made more readily available. The powerful Church in the world's largest Catholic country is opposed to a bill that would make it easier for women to obtain abortions in cases of rape or if their health is in danger.

The abortion debate has even involved the country's first lady, Ruth Cardoso, who was quoted by newspapers Thursday as saying the pope should not seek to influence the debate.

The pope also told the crowd that a society that neglected its young was ``inhuman and irresponsible''.

Abandoned children, known as ``meninos de rua'' (street children) are a major problem in big Brazilian cities, where they have sometimes become the target of right-wing death squads.

``Households that do not fully educate their children, who abandon them, commit a very grave injustice for which they will have to account before the tribunal of God,'' he said.

During the trip to Brazil, he has also condemned divorce and issued a veiled condemnation of homosexual marriages.

Earlier Saturday the Vatican firmly denied a German newspaper report that claimed it was talking to a German surgeon about carrying out an operation on the pope.

``The cited doctor ... has never visited the Holy Father,'' spokesman Navarro-Valls said.

``The hypothesis that is being referred to -- surgical operation to correct a functional insufficiency of the right hip -- has never been taken into consideration,'' he added.

The pope has walked with difficulty since 1994, when he underwent surgery to replace a thigh bone broken in a fall. There has been repeated speculation in recent years that he needed another operation because the first one was not a complete success.

The pontiff returns to Rome on Sunday night after presiding at an open-air mass on a Rio beach-front esplanade where organizers expect some 1.5 million people.