“Pope Francis, our friend, Bolivia is with you,” chanted the crowds as Pope Francis arrived this afternoon to La Paz, where he told the people that their great diversity is a call to mutual respect.
The local temperature was in the mid 50s as the Holy Father listened to the national anthems and greeted hundreds of people, including many children dressed in traditional costumes.
La Paz is Bolivia’s third most-populous city and the seat of the country’s government; in part due to its high elevation, (10,500 to 13,500 ft), the Holy Father will only be here for a few hours. This evening at 8 p.m., he is scheduled to depart for Santa Cruz, Bolivia’s most populous city.
The Pope spoke of the beauty of the country against the backdrop of the mountain scenery, but added that “above all, Bolivia is a land blessed in its people.”
“It is home to a great cultural and ethnic variety, which is at once a great source of enrichment and a constant summons to mutual respect and dialogue,” he said. “There are the ancient aboriginal peoples and the more recent native peoples. The Spanish language brought to this land now happily exists with 36 native languages, which come together – like the red and yellow in the national flowers of Kantuta and Patujú – to create beauty and unity in diversity. In this land and people the proclamation of the Gospel took deep root, and through the years it has continued to shed its light upon society, contributing to the development of the nation and shaping its culture.”
The Bishop of Rome spoke about the various needs facing the society. He warned, “A growth which is merely material will always run the risk of creating new divisions, of the wealth of some being built on the poverty of others. Hence, in addition to institutional transparency, social unity requires efforts to promote the education of citizens.”
The Holy Father largely followed his prepared address, but departed from the text on a few occasions to add emphasis to his often repeated exhortation that no one be excluded or discarded. As he has often warned, children and the elderly should not be victims of a throwaway culture, as they are the future and memory of the people.
As in Ecuador, the Pontiff also emphasized the theme of family: “In an age when basic values are often neglected or distorted, the family merits special attention on the part of those responsible for the common good, since it is the basic cell of society. Families foster the solid bonds of unity on which human coexistence is based, and, through the bearing and education of children, they ensure the renewal of society.”
“I am pleased to be here,” the Pope concluded, “in a country which calls itself pacifist, a country which promotes the culture of peace and the right to peace.”
Francis traveled from the airport to the palace of government for a courtesy visit with President Evo Morales. Then he is to meet with civil authorities in the La Paz cathedral and give a speech.
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