Pope visits Paraguay slum, calls church to welcome sick

Lombardi, the spokesman, said Francis was well at the end of his trip, but “tired like the rest of us”.

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The Argentine pontiff made defending the poor a major theme of his “homecoming” trip, which also took him to Ecuador and Bolivia, ranked among Latin America’s poorest countries.

ASUNCION, Paraguay (AP) – Pope Francis will put into practice his insistence that the world’s poor not be left on the margins of society by visiting a slum outside Asuncion on the final day of his three-country South American tour.

“I want to be your neighbor”, he said.

Francis has defined the economic challenge of this era as the failure of global capitalism to create fairness, equity and dignified livelihoods for the poor – a social and religious agenda that coincides with a resurgence of the leftist thinking marginalised in the days of John Paul II.

In Ecuador, one of the world’s most species-diverse nations, Francis told business leaders and indigenous groups that the Earth’s natural resources are for everyone and must not be exploited by the wealthy few. As archbishop and pope, he frequently has praised the fortitude and faith of Paraguay’s women, saying they should be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for what they did for their country.

The Metropolitan Cathedral is illuminated in the colors of the Paraguayan flag during evening prayers with Pope Francis in Asuncion, Paraguay.

After she spoke, the pope blessed her, kissed her forehead and hugged her. The two exchanged words privately.

“We now know there is one Pope Francis, who says the same things whether he is in Italy, Asia or Latin America”, said Massimo Faggioli, a Rome-based Vatican historian.

Pope Francis is celebrating the last Mass of his three-nation South America tour on a very special altar. The entire structure was a mosaic, an ode to the role Jesuit missionaries had in Paraguay, made out of 40,000 ears of corn, 200,000 coconuts, 1,000 squash gourds and many dried beans.

Francis, in a historic gesture of reconciliation, sought forgiveness Thursday from Bolivia s predominantly indigenous inhabitants for crimes committed centuries earlier in the name of the Catholic Church.

Among the worshipers were Cristina Kirchner, the president of Francis’s native Argentina, and Paraguay President Horacio Cartes. Today, many in Caacupe and across Paraguay give credit to the virgin for miracles, which range from help finding a job to beating a disease.

Because of its location between Asuncion and the Paraguay River, the land on which the shantytown sits has recently become valuable real estate, and residents fear that unless the government steps in to protect them, they could be forced out.

“”We built our neighbourhoods inch by inch, overcoming hard terrain, floods and hostile public authorities,””, Maria Garcia, a local organiser, told him.

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“Now I can die peacefully”, said Francisca de Chamorra, an 82-year-old widow who moved to the slum in 1952. Her rudimentary wooden home sits right behind it. “Faith unites borders”. Instead, he said, they must improve the lives of people in places like Banado Norte, where thousands live in shacks without running water or electricity. Pigs rummage through garbage for leftovers.

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