Pope arrives in Sao Paulo

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Pope Benedict XVI has arrived in Sao Paulo on the opening day of his first visit to Latin America since becoming the head of the Catholic church.

The visit, a five-day trip to the world's most populous Catholic nation, will feature several open-air masses and is intended to win back the millions of disaffected Catholics who have defected to other churches.

According to the latest figures from Brazil, nearly two in every three individuals class themselves as Roman Catholic, but this is around a ten per cent reduction in the percentage of the population that follows the Pope.

As part of the visit, the Pope will also open the first Latin American bishops' conference for 15 years, which takes place in Aparecida, beginning on Sunday.

The gathering will feature nearly 200 bishops from across Latin America and the Caribbean and will set out the agenda and policies of the Catholic church for the next few years.

One of the main aims will be to bridge the gap between the perceived traditionalists of European Catholicism and the more relaxed approach to religious beliefs that appears to be the norm in South America.

The Pope's visit is the first since he was voted to succeed Pope John Paul II, who died in April 2005.

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