Pope John Paul II, addressing an outdoor mass attended by close to a million Venezuelans tonight, turned to the problems of Central America and welcomed the archbishops of El Salvador and Nicaragua.
"With special affection I send an embrace of peace for the situation that the church is undergoing in El Salvador and Nicaragua," the pope said as he revealed the presence of Arbishops Arturo Rivera y Damas and Miguel Obando y Bravo, the heads of the Salvadoran and Nicaraguan churches.
The Pope is likely to discuss with Obando y Bravo the tense government-church relations in Nicaragua, where four clerics were told last week they would be suspended from performing priestly functions when they refused to give up their posts in the Sandinista government.
There also has been some speculation of a Vatican role in mediating peace in Central America. In his welcoming remarks Saturday, Venezuelan President Jaime Lusinchi said the Pope's visit brought hope for dialogue and peace to the region.
But the emphasis in the pope's address in this city was on the pastoral concerns of the Venezuelan church and the ills affecting Venezuelan society.
Speaking from a large altar covered with a golden, handmade carpet, the pontiff told the wildly cheering audience that religious teaching "should be present in all schools , without distinction."
Earlier in the day at another outdoor mass in Caracas, John Paul reiterated his uncompromising stand on sex, marriage and the family to an audience estiamted to number more than one million.
The pope, visiting Venezuela at the beginning of his sixth trip to Latin America, bluntly condemned contraception, abortion and divorce.
"Every marriage act should be open to the transmission of life," he said in Spanish at an open-air mass under tropical blues skies in a valley ringed by some of the worst slums in Caracas.
"Therefore, contraception and sterilization with contraceptive end are always gravely illicit" acts. He added: "Remember that never is it right to snuff out a human life, with abortion or euthanasia."
Standing above his audience on a two-story altar under a huge cross, John Paul called divorce a plague that ruins family life and called for parental responsibility.
"Fight against the plague of divorce, which ruins families and so negatively affects the education of children," he said.
Although the pope has been enthusiastically received by Venezuelans, who lined up three and four deep to catch a glimpse of him, it is uncertain what effect his message is likely to have. Venezuela is an overwhelmingly Catholic country, but contraceptives are widely available and used, divorce is common and the illegitimate birth rate is at least 40 percent.
At the end of the mass the crowd chanted: "John Paul, our friend, Venezuela is with you."
It later roared its approval when the pope waved and replied with a chant of his own: "My friend, Venezuela, the pope is with you."
The crowd broke into applause again when the pope stepped down from the platform to embrace a 7-year-old crippled child, Leopoldo Vollmer.
Earlier, the pope made equally firm comments criticizing proponents of liberation theology, a mixture of Christian belief and some aspects of Marxist thought that holds that the church should work actively to promote political and social change.
At a private dinner with Venezuelan bishops last night the pope, in a clear reference to proponents of liberation theology, criticized "those who distort the evangelical message and put it at the service of ideological and political strategies in search of an illusory earthly liberation that is not the church's nor for the true good of man."
While rejecting liberation theories, the pope sought to strike a delicate balance between the church's social and spiritual ministries. He criticized the poverty so evident in Caracas, a city of skyscrapers and slums and poverty that persists despite the country's oil wealth.
"We are worried about the precarious situation of so many Venezuelans," he told the bishops. However, he added, the church has its own specific mission, which is spiritual, to transform the world "from within."
"This can never be forgotten or relegated to a secondary place," he said.
The pope started his day with a visit to Venezuela's Polish community. As helicopters whirred outside and soldiers kept tight security, the pope greeted Poles, some of whom waved tiny red and white Solidarity flags, and immigrants from other Eastern European countries in their own languages.