Pope John Paul II gave Brazilians a stern lecture Sunday on "the sad situation" of millions of neglected and abandoned children, one of this country's most serious social problems.
On the last full day of a 10-day Brazilian tour, the Pope spoke in a plaza filled with boys and girls who clapped and cheered, squirmed and fidgeted and sang and waved small flags of white and yellow, the Vatican colors. He descended from his platform after speaking and went among the children, smiling warmly as they reached out to touch him.
In his speech, John Paul laid down a series of commandments against practices and conditions, including death-squad murders, that afflict alarming numbers of Brazilian children.
"There cannot and must not be abandoned children," he said. "Nor homeless children. Nor street children.
"There cannot and must not be children used by adults for immorality, for drug trafficking, for petty and major infractions, for the practice of vice.
"There cannot and must not be children crowded into detention centers and correction houses, where they are not able to receive a true education.
"There cannot and must not be--it is the Pope who asks and demands in the name of God and his son, who also was a child--there cannot and must not be murdered children, eliminated under the pretext of crime prevention, marked to die."
Street children struggle to survive in many Latin American countries, but nowhere are they more numerous than in Brazil, where weak social agencies are overwhelmed by poverty and growth in the population of 150 million.
According to the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), about 7 million children live in neglect on Brazilian streets. Death squads, which often include policemen and security guards working for retail merchants, have in recent years killed hundreds of children and teen-agers suspected of robbery and other crimes, human rights groups report.
John Paul commended President Fernando Collor de Mello for creating a Ministry of the Child, and the Congress for enacting a statute for the protection of minors. He said the law is not a panacea, but he voiced hope that it will "inspire, at all levels of the Brazilian community, effective initiatives aimed at solving the problems."
He said the Roman Catholic church is helping abandoned minors with special pastorates for children in many dioceses, and he announced that he was contributing $400,000, which he received recently as a prize from a private Italian foundation.