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WYD 2013: Pope Francis visits recovering drug addicts in Rio hospital

Pope Francis greets a young man as he meets patients, family and staff at St Francis of Assisi Hospital in Rio de Janeiro (Photo: CNS)

Pope Francis addressed a group of recovering drug addicts at hospital in Rio de Janeiro, offering them a message of compassion and a challenge.

At the Hospital of St Francis of Assisi, which the Pope called a “shrine of human suffering,” he told patients they were the “flesh of Christ,” like the leper embraced by the institution’s patron saint in a crucial step toward his conversion. He also said those struggling with drug dependency deserve the “closeness, affection and love” of all society.

Yet he also stressed the necessity of personal will in recovering from addiction. “To embrace someone is not enough,” Pope Francis said. “We must hold the hand of the one in need, of the one who has fallen into the darkness of dependency perhaps without even knowing how, and we must say to him or her: ‘You can get up, you can stand up. It is difficult, but it is possible if you want to.’

“Dear friends, I wish to say to each of you, but especially to all those others who have not had the courage to embark on our journey: ‘You have to want to stand up; this is the indispensable condition.'”

The Pope arrived at the hospital on Wednesday afternoon and was greeted by patients, family members and hospital staff packed into one of the hospital’s courtyards. The audience was in good spirits despite the rain, and Pope Francis spent nearly an hour passing through the crowd. He then listened to several speeches, including two by recovering addicts.

The Pope’s speech, delivered in Portuguese, also addressed the social, political and economic ramifications of drug abuse. He denounced the “scourge of drug-trafficking that favurs violence and sows the seeds of suffering and death,” and called traffickers “dealers of death,” who “follow the logic of money and power at any cost.”

He said that the answer to drug addiction was not a “liberalisation of drug use, as is currently being proposed in various parts of Latin America,” but solutions to the “problems underlying the use of these drugs.”

Such solutions, Pope Francis said, include “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.”

During his visit, Pope Francis inaugurated a new wing of the hospital dedicated to treating users of crack cocaine, who represent three percent of the population of Brazil, according to the World Health Organisation statistics cited by the hospital. The city of Rio estimates there are 6,000 crack users in the city alone.