Tomorrow, Pope Benedict XVI begins a six-day pilgrimage to Brazil.
This offers the pope a great opportunity to convince the people of the southern hemisphere, which includes 43% of the world's 1.1 billion Catholics, that they, too, are at the centre of his ministry.
The visit begins with 14 pastoral events -- first in Sao Paolo, where the pope will meet with young people and canonize the first Brazilian-born saint. Then he moves to the basilica of Our Lady of Aparecida, one of the largest Marian shrines in the world, where he will inaugurate the Fifth General Conference of the Bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean, celebrate Mass and deliver a major speech.
A total of 265 people will take part in the general conference, including two Canadian Bishops and Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet of Quebec City.
What challenges will Benedict face as he meets with the delegates?
Though often considered "the Catholic continent", the Church is facing many crises in Latin America, not the least of which is the loss of many Catholics to other churches and sects.
Many are abandoning their churches in favour of Penetecostal communities. They are thirsty for a living, real Jesus, whom the Catholic Church has not proclaimed very well at times.
Urgent questions have emerged over the past decade and the world will be watching to see if Pope Benedict and the Bishops of Latin America will respond to some of these issues during the assembly.
1) How can the Roman Catholic Church revitalize the faith among the church's members in order to generate a new sense of mission and relevance in society?
2) How will the Catholic Church in Latin America deal with the serious problem of the proselytism of religious sects, which requires a new effort in Catholic education?
3) What new pastoral plans will the Church develop to respond to the crises in marriage and family life -- both of which are suffering under the pressure of lobbies that push for legislative changes?
4) Seminaries in Latin America are very uneven in their training and formation of future priests. What measures must the Church take to insure that they are preparing young men for the challenges of the contemporary church?
5) How can the Catholic Church continue to deal boldly with economic injustice and the fight against poverty?
The general conferences of Latin American bishops are considered milestone events. Some have produced important shifts in pastoral direction. How will Pope Benedict, an academic at heart, respond to the emotional culture of the region that is known for great expressions of popular piety and devotion?
Benedict XVI has made it clear that the person of Jesus Christ is the central message of his papacy, and Jesus is clearly the central issue in Latin America.
In Sao Paolo and Aparecida, how will Pope Benedict speak to the continent, forge critical new paths for the church in Latin America, change minds and touch hearts?
Salt and Light Television in Canada will televise the entire papal journey to Brazil. Check out our website Salt and Light TV