SÃO PAULO, BRAZIL—During a visit to the teeming slums of São Paulo Monday, Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua warned the city's starving masses against the evils of contraception, urging them to "be fruitful and multiply" and do "everything in [their] power" to resist the mortal sin of birth control.
"In Genesis, God commands us to be fruitful and multiply, to fill the Earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish and birds and every other living thing," said Bevilacqua, speaking before more than 200,000 malnourished São Paulo slum dwellers. "It is not for man to decide whether the world should have more babies than it can reasonably support. God will decide whose seed shall find purchase and when."
The gathering, which took place on a muddy hillside crowded with tin-and-tarpaper shacks, was one of many to take place around the world Monday—a day Pope John Paul II declared World Childbirth Day.
"No wonder we are plagued by disease and high infant mortality," said São Paulo father of eight Oranjinho Cruz, speaking from his dilapidated one-room home, which lacks electricity or potable water. "God has been punishing us for trying to prevent the miraculous gift of conception."
In Calcutta, a city where 53 percent of residents are under 18, Catholic missionaries delivered a similar message of love and procreation.
"In this life, there is a right path and a wrong path, and which you take is entirely up to you," said missionary Christopher Halloran, addressing a group of 4,500 villagers crammed into a schoolhouse. "Will you deny God's wisdom by using condoms, or will you shine in the divine light of unprotected sex? The choice is clear."
"God does not want you to choke the rivers of fertile bounty with immoral birth-control pills," continued Halloran, framed by a backdrop of brown, withered crops and skeletal, half-living farm animals. "He wants you to continue expanding your families. If your babies starve, Jesus will forgive them."
The words of Halloran and his fellow missionaries have struck a chord with the impoverished masses of the world.
"We were told we should not use condoms to prevent the spread of HIV," said Luis Ortiz of Bogotá, Colombia. "The man from the Church assured us that the Lord will protect us from disease, provided we are true to His wish that we produce more children than we can possibly care for."
Added Ortiz: "Life in this shantytown is difficult, but our troubles are nothing compared to what we will face in the Lake Of Fire if we try to live within our means and regulate the number of offspring we produce, as Satan teaches."
Though critics have called the Catholic Church's anti-contraception campaign irresponsible and dangerous, particularly in regions where food and medical facilities are scarce, the missionaries remain steadfast in their commitment to fighting the spread of birth control.
"No man-made organization knows God's will," said Atlanta-born missionary Lucas Roberts, 24, handing out Bibles to polio-stricken children in Dhaka, Bangladesh. "His ways are mysterious and noble. All we can do is interpret His words as they appear in the Good Book. And those words clearly state that we have an obligation to shun effective methods of population control."
Responding to critics, Cardinal Bevilacqua said the Catholic Church is not oblivious to the plight of the impoverished, noting that it offers a sanctioned way to postpone the inevitable fruit of God's will.
"For those who want to practice God's natural birth control, there are two options," Bevilacqua said. "You can try abstinence or, if you are married, you can try natural family planning, also known as the rhythm method. This has proven up to 87 percent effective, which is more than suitable for maintaining a reasonable household. So long as no seed is spilled, God will not immediately strike you down."
Bevilacqua also noted that, in cases in which natural family planning fails, unwanted children can be sent to Catholic orphanages, where they will be cared for and groomed to spread word of the punishment awaiting those who impede God's grand biological destiny.