From the Andes to the Atlantic Ocean, to the Amazon and the Rio de le Plata, going in a few hours from 4,000 meters of altitude down to sea level , and including a wide gamut of languages (Quechua, Aymara, Guarani) and ethnic groups (Indians and Mestizos) — all in just under seven days.
Francis’ trip to Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay from July 5-12 is demanding but also unique: it is his ninth international trip, the first in “his” Latin America and the first that includes more than one country. The Argentine Pope — the fourth Pontiff to go to Latin America — will spend almost 48 hours in each of the three countries, spending himself as usual between greeting the people, meeting with Authorities, Episcopates, Religious, young people, the sick, solemn celebrations and Marian moments.
However, numerous are the original ideas that stem from this tour de force in the other Hemisphere. To begin with, the Argentine Pontiff will speak in his own language again, Spanish, during all the seven days of his stay. And then the fact that, going for the first time to his Continent, he has chosen to visit three countries “which are not geopolitically in the first places” on the world scale, as Father Federico Lombardi said in yesterday’s briefing at the Holy See Press Office.
A choice that is altogether consistent with his previous trips in Europe, to Albania and Bosnia, or with some places such as Lampedusa in Italy. On the other hand, Francis’ motto has always been “to put the peripheries at the center.” The Successor of Peter’s embrace, therefore, will touch areas of the world that some 200 years ago acquired their independence and which still today suffer external conflicts over “border” questions, and internal wounds caused by past dictatorial regimes.
“[These are] situations that must be kept very present to understand the picture in which the Holy Father will move,” underscored Father Lombardi, and for which the people await a word of the Pope “for a renewal of their social life, politics in general, in the sense of peace, of participatory and democratic development.”
Reflecting on the history of Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay — and also recalling Saint John Paul II’s addresses in his trips in the early 80s — it will be possible, in fact, to gather the nuances of the different addresses that Francis will pronounce during his trip — 22, to be exact, already planned; then it will be interesting to live and see what is included, effectively, of the text,” said the Vatican spokesman.
Foreseen already are numerous off-the-cuff interventions, as well as typical ones ‘outside the program,’ it being, moreover, a question of countries that the Pope knows, having visited them in the past as cardinal of Buenos Aires, although for very brief periods. For instance, in one of his first stops in Ecuador, at Guayaquil on July 6, the Pontiff will visit the Xavier College of the Jesuits, with which community, “in his earlier history, he had a very strong relationship,” so much so that he sent young Argentine Jesuits there for a period of formation.
Therefore, the Pope will meet with old friends, but also with a flood of people. There is talk in fact of celebrations with 1.5 million present as, for instance, the Mass dedicated to the Family in the Samanes Park in Guayaquil, or the celebration of the opening of the Eucharistic Congress in the Square of Christ the Redeemer at Santa Cruz de la Sierra in Bolivia.
Not forgetting, then, that the Pontiff will travel for miles in open popemobiles, prepared locally (among which is an unheard of tour in a jeep in Bolivia’s airport). They will make it possible to move much more slowly as opposed to the covered ones, and will guarantee the Holy Father direct contact with the people, who will come from every corner of the three countries to greet him (foreseen also for the stage in Paraguay is an influx from neighboring Argentina).
The salient moments of Pope Francis’ trip will be in fact his meetings with the “people,” — the most disadvantaged, the poorest, in need of the proclamation of the Good News. This will be, precisely, the guiding thread of the week: “Evangelii Gaudium, the joy of the proclamation of the Gospel,” said Father Lombardi — a “unitary” theme, evidenced in the logos and mottos of the individual countries: To Evangelize with Joy, in Ecuador; With Francis We Proclaim the Joy of the Gospel, in Bolivia and Messenger of Joy and Peace, in Paraguay.
With this spirit of joy, the Pontiff will then meet the elderly in the Ecuadorian House of the Missionaries of Charity, the prisoners of the penitentiary complex of Palmasol in Bolivia (almost a ‘village” that houses more than 2,800 detainees), and the sick children of the pediatric hospital of Asuncion in Paraguay. And he will also visit the very poor neighborhood of Banado Norte, a favela of sorts in Asuncion, located along the river where thousands of immigrants live. Also very important is the Holy Father’s meeting with the participants in the 2nd World Meeting of Popular Movements at Santa Cruz in Bolivia, which follows the first edition held on October 24, 2014 in the Vatican, which was attended by Bolivian President Evo Morales. It is a meeting strongly supported by the Holy See, through the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. Attending the meeting with the Pope will be Cardinal Peter Turkson.
Not forgotten, moreover, is the meeting with young people along the Paraguayan Costanera river (more than 200,000 are expected), and Marian moments such as the prayer to the College’s Sorrowful Mother, Patroness of Catholic education in Ecuador, and the visit to the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception at Caacupe, in Paraguay, to which Francis is profoundly devoted. Another notable moment will be Pope Francis’ visit — before going to La Paz in Bolivia — to the place of the murder of Jesuit Father Luis Espinal, journalist, moviemaker and religious poet, murdered by the dictatorial regime on March 22, 1980, two days before Archbishop Romero.
In regard to the Pope’s entourage, Father Lombardi explained that it will include the Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin and, as usual, a Vatican dependent, this time of the health services. In place of Cardinal Marc Ouellet, President of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America, will be, instead, the Secretary of the Commission, with the task of Vice-President, Guzman Carriquiry. There is no particular change on the communications plane, despite the new Secretariat for Communication instituted last Saturday, whose Prefect is Monsignor Vigano.
Among the questions posed by journalist during the briefing was the eventuality that the Pope would chew coca leaves or drink coca tea as a medicinal remedy against the effects of the high altitude. “As the Pope takes mate when it is offered to him, it’s possible that there will be some form of local usage suggested to him for this situation, a specific herb tea for the altitude. I’m not sure, but it wouldn’t surprise me, because he is happy to participate in particularly shared customs,” affirmed the Vatican spokesman.