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Pope Francis Returns Home to Latin America

Pope Francis with Father Federico Lombardi – en

© FILIPPO MONTEFORTE / AFP

Pope Francis (L) greets journalists next to director of the Holy See press Office Federico Lombardi aboard a plane during his trip to Ankara as part of a three day visit in Turkey on November 28, 2014. Pope Francis begins his first visit to Turkey today in a challenging trip aimed at building bridges with Islam and supporting the embattled Christian minorities of the Middle East. The pope will spend the first of three days in Turkey in the capital Ankara, notably holding a meeting with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at his newly-constructed and hugely controversial presidential palace.  AFP PHOTO / FILIPPO MONTEFORTE

Diane Montagna - published on 07/05/15

Apostolic visit to include Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis returns home to his native Latin America this Sunday, on an intense seven-day apostolic journey to the “peripheries” of the continent — Ecuador, Bolivia, and Paraguay.

The theme of the July 5-12 visit is: “The Joy of Proclaiming the Gospel.” This guiding thread of the papal visit is taken from the Pope’s apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium and the Aparecida CELAM meeting in 2007 in which as a cardinal the pope played a key role. 

Pope Francis will spend just 48 hours in each country and deliver 22 addresses. The Holy Father is scheduled to celebrate 5 Masses in open-air parks, military bases, and Marian shrines loved by the Latin Americans. Crowds of one to two million are expected at some events, according to Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi, SJ.

Pope Francis will be speaking entirely in his native Spanish, which all but guarantees seven days of surprises from a Pope known for his off-the-cuff remarks.

“Prepare yourself spiritually for the Pope’s interventions,” Fr. Lombardi joked with journalists during a press conference on Thursday, pondering the prospect of what the pope of parresia (candor) might say.

Clarion calls for Latin America

According to Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the main issues Pope Francis will address in Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay are very clear.  

In a July 3rd interview published in the Osservatore Romano, on the eve of the Pope’s departure, Cardinal Parolin said the Pope will call for “protection of creation, our common home; social justice; a peace that respects of the rights of all; a society that is more inclusive of the poor; and a fight against extreme forms of poverty, so that the dignity of every human person may be recognized.”

The Pope will also call for “the cultural identity of each nation to be respected, amid globalizing tendencies to make everything the same,” Parolin said.

“The Church continues to exercise a prophetic role in the face of what the Pope calls ‘ideological colonization,’ i.e. attempts to impose models that not only not suitable to the ethos and traditions of the population, but many times even tend to subvert them.”

In unscripted remarks delivered in Spanish at a meeting with families in Manila last January, the Pope urged clergy and laity to “be on guard against colonization by new ideologies,” referring to efforts to redefine marriage.

“There are forms of ideological colonization which are out to destroy the family,” he said. “They are not born of dreams, prayers, closeness to God, or the mission which God has given us. They come from without, and for that reason I am saying that they are forms of colonization.” 

Cardinal Parolin affirmed that the main front on which forces are especially seeking to impose this ideological colonization is “the family and life.” That is why, he said, “the Church must continue to preach the Gospel, which is good news for the family and for life, under the present circumstances.”

Chief among the ideologies Pope Francis is presently rallying against is “gender theory,” which he calls a “threat to society” and which is increasingly being imposed in Latin America.

Continent of hope, Church for the poor

Just ahead of the Pope’s departure, Parolin set the apostolic visit against the backdrop of remarks Pope Francis made last year in St. Peter’s Basilica on the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

On that occasion, the Holy Father quoted his saintly predecessor, Pope John Paul II, who described Latin American as a “continent of hope.”  

Its people are made the objects of enslavement and exploitation or are simply rejected “by the idolatrous system of a throwaway culture,” he said, and so “we expect new models of development, which link reconciliation, scientific and technological development to human wisdom, fruitful suffering to hopeful joy.”

Cardinal Parolin, who formerly served as Apostolic Nuncio in Venezuela, identified these elements as “the physiognomy of Latin America,” particularly in the three countries the Pope will visit.

Pope Francis’ visit to Ecuador, Bolivia, and Paraguay promises to be a special sign of hope for the vulnerable and those on the peripheries of life.

A significant focus of the Pope’s visit will be children, the poor, imprisoned, disabled and elderly. He is to visit a detention center on July 10th in Bolivia. Called Palmasola, the prison is described by the Vatican as a more of “village” that houses 2,800 prisoners whose grounds include a school to educate their children.

The Pope will also visit a nursing home run by the Missionaries of Charity in Ecuador, and in Paraguay, the poorest country on the continent after Bolivia, he is scheduled to visit a very poor and large suburb of the country’s capital Asunción called Banado Norte. This favela houses 23,000 families and its population has exploded after decades of immigration of poor people from all over the country.

Will the Pope chew coca leaves?

One concern about the visit is the high altitude of La Paz, Bolivia, whose airport is believed to be the highest in the world. Some speculation has been swirling about the effect this might have on the Pope’s health, especially as he has just one lung.

Locals are recommending the Pope have recourse to what they consider the most natural and effective way to fight symptoms experienced at high altitudes — to consume coca, the plant from which cocaine is derived.

“I wouldn’t be shocked if the Pope partakes,” Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi told clearly interested journalists, several of whom — of Latin American origin — were explaining to colleaguues at the press conference the medicinal benefits behind the leaves.

Yet, if the Pope does imbibe coca tea or chew its leaves, he will not be the first Pope to do so: Pope St. John Paul II and Blessed Paul VI both imbibed the local remedy for high altitudes on apostolic visits to Latin America.

Coca leaves or not, Pope Francis has decided to bring his personal physician and a second medic. 

Finally, although Pope Francis will not be travelling to Argentina, the Argentinians will surely come to him. Authorities are expecting over one million Argentines to cross the border into neighboring Paraguay to attend the papal events. One will be held in Asuncion, just 24 miles over the border from Argentina. And the second, a papal Mass, will be celebrated in the Shrine of our Lady of Caacupé, just 50 miles away. There, at the Marian shrine, the Pope will renew an act of consecration of Paraguay to the Blessed Virgin, with the same prayer used by his predecessor, Pope St. John Paul II.

Diane Montagna is Rome correspondent for Aleteia’s English edition.

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