Pope Francis Makes Latin America Visit About ‘Most Fragile … Most Vulnerable’

Posted on July 6, 2015


by Alex JS, editing by Adam MS

At the start of a weeklong visit to his native continent, Pope Francis arrived to a red carpet reception at Quito’s main airport, where Ecuador’s socialist president Rafael Correa greeted him on the tarmac.

But as the pope’s motorcade proceeded into the city, many along the sidelines voiced their disapproval of Correa, giving him thumbs down.

For this first Latin American pope, the trip is almost a homecoming. He is not visiting his home country Argentina on this trip. Instead he will travel the Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay.

This is his first visit to Spanish speaking countries here. All three countries he is visiting are overwhelmingly Catholic and among the poorest on the continent.

At Quito airport, Pope Francis said he feels “particular concern for our brothers and sisters who are most fragile and minorities who are most vulnerable.”

The large open air masses he is scheduled to hold during his visit are expected to draw millions of people. The pope also plans to take time to visit a Bolivian prison and a slum in Paraguay, making the effort to connect with those at the margins of society.

PHOTO: Pope Francis waves to the crowd as he rides aboard the Popemobile in the streets of Quito, Ecuador, Sunday, July 5, 2015.Pope Francis took time to meet each of the 75 journalists traveling with him on the papal plane, accepting presents from some reporters and blessing rosaries and other items they brought with them.

One Bolivian reporter gave Francis locally made chocolates with his face on them. The pope beamed as he agreed to take a selfie with her.

But the trip will be physically grueling for the 78-year-old leader of the Catholic faith. He is scheduled to make nine stops in seven days, making this his longest busiest foreign trip yet.

One stop, in Bolivian capital La Paz, is at an altitude of 4,000 meters, equivalent to some of the tallest mountains in the United States.

As a young man, Pope Francis lost part of one lung due to an illness, and church officials acknowledged some concern about altitude sickness.

According to Vatican officials, the pope has expressed an interest in trying a local remedy popular among indigenous people in the Andes mountains: coca leaves.

Local residents chew them or drink them in tea to alleviate the shortness of breath and queeziness that can result from spending even a few short hours at altitude.

But coca leaves are illegal in much of the developed world, banned as a controlled substance because they are the raw ingredient of cocaine.