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Pope Benedict XVI canonizes Brazil's first native-born saint

SAO PAULO, Brazil—While hundreds of thousands of faithful cheered and prayed, Pope Benedict XVI canonized Brazil's first native-born saint Friday, the third day of his five-day tour of the world's biggest Roman Catholic country.

The open-air Mass at the Campo de Marte airfield took on a celebratory air as the 80-year-old pontiff praised Antonio de Sant'Anna Galvao, a Franciscan monk who lived most of his 83 years in Sao Paulo until he died in 1822.

The huge crowd waved the flags of various South American countries and chanted the pope's name during the ceremony. Many cried upon hearing him formally proclaim Galvao a saint. It was the first canonization ceremony ever outside the Vatican.

"He was renowned as a counselor; he was a bringer of peace to souls and families and a dispenser of charity, especially toward the poor and sick," Benedict read in Portuguese to the crowd estimated at about a million.

Later in the Mass, Benedict hit a harder note by bringing up the social themes that have marked this visit, his first outside Europe since he became pope two years ago. He assailed what he said was "an age so full of hedonism" and warned Catholics against the "evils that afflict modern life."

He didn't mention abortion, however, an issue that stirred controversy Wednesday when he said that Mexican legislators who'd voted last month to legalize abortion in Mexico City deserved to be excommunicated.

He seemed to decry the influence of sex in the mass media. "The world needs transparent lives, clear souls, pure minds that refuse to be perceived as mere objects of pleasure," Benedict said. "It is necessary to oppose those elements of the media that ridicule the sanctity of marriage and virginity before marriage."

Despite the admonitions, the Mass became an epic party to celebrate the church's newest saint.

Brazilians know Galvao for the paper "pills" he created, which are still produced and eaten by thousands in hopes that they'll help with difficult pregnancies and other medical problems.

The pills contain snippets of prayer. The Catholic Church credited them with two miracles that it certified in order to canonize Galvao under church doctrine.

Church officials certified the last miracle in December, when it said the pills had been responsible for the successful pregnancy of Brasilia resident Sandra Grossi de Almeida. Doctors had said that her malformed uterus couldn't support a fetus for more than four months. After two miscarriages, de Almeida ate the pills and carried her son for seven months, when he was delivered by Caesarean section.

Dressed in white, de Almeida and son Enzzo, now 7, ascended the stage Friday and knelt before the pope to receive his blessing.

In an interview afterward with McClatchy Newspapers, de Almeida said she'd turned while she was before the pope to look at the sea of onlookers, then turned back to him and said, "We are all here. All the people of Brazil love you." She also gave the pope a rosary.

"I am in a state of grace," de Almeida said. "This feeling will never leave me, and I am very thankful that everything went perfectly."

Galvao is the 10th saint Benedict has canonized, and nearly the 500th since Pope John Paul II sped up the process for certifying saints. Estimates of the total number of Catholic saints vary from 800 to more than 10,000, depending on whether medieval saints and Roman martyrs are included.

Known as a conservative without the popular touch of his predecessor, Benedict has seemingly warmed to the adoration of Brazilian Catholics. He made repeated, unscheduled appearances on the balcony of the St. Benedict monastery where he was staying to bless the thousands gathered in the plaza below.

En route to a meeting with Brazilian bishops Friday afternoon in Sao Paulo's main cathedral, he lowered the bulletproof glass of his famed popemobile to stick out a hand and wave to the bishops.

The pope flew Friday night to the shrine town of Aparecida, about 100 miles from Sao Paulo, where he'll open a once-a-decade conference of Latin American and Caribbean bishops Sunday.

Catholic leaders said they hoped that the pope's visit would stop Latin American Catholics from leaving the church and joining Pentecostal congregations, as millions have over the past two decades.

Nearly half the world's 1.1 billion Catholics live in Latin America, with more than 125 million in Brazil. Surveys find that Catholics in Brazil have dropped from 89 percent of the population in 1980 to 64 percent this year.

Benedict told Brazilian bishops Friday that the "lack of evangelization" among Catholics had made people "more vulnerable to the aggressive proselytizing of the sects, which is a reason for just worry."

He called for "a leap of quality in the Christian experience of the people" while asking bishops to "work tirelessly in the education of politicians, of Brazilians who have some decision-making power."

Nelson Luna, 40, who'd flown from Ecuador to see the pope, said this week's visit and Friday's canonization were having the desired effect on the continent.

"This saint isn't just Brazilian," Luna said. "He's South American, and the fact that the pope came all this way here to canonize him is very important to us. We feel humbled by what we've seen this week."

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A video interview with the two beneficiaries of miracles attributed to St. Galvao can be seen at the McClatchy Washington Bureau's Web site, www.mcclatchydc.com.

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(c) 2007, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

GRAPHICS (from MCT Graphics, 202-383-6064): BRAZIL POPE

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