Pope Francis’ welcome to Paraguay today was extraordinarily festive and colorful, even with the rainy skies. A production of music and choreography — including performers dressed as statues of Our Lady and Jesus carried high in procession — welcomed the Pope to the third and final leg of his South America tour. For his part, the 78-year-old Pontiff seemed full of energy, despite being on the sixth day of his apostolic visit.
The Pope only had one address scheduled for this afternoon: to the civil authorities and diplomatic corps of his host country, following a courtesy visit to President Horacio Cartes.
The Holy Father admitted, “It is not hard to feel at home in so welcoming a land.”
The Pope went on to speak of the history of the country that is at the geographical heart of South America and shares a border with his native Argentina.
“From the first days of the country’s independence to recent times, Paraguay has known the terrible sufferings brought on by war, fratricidal conflict, lack of freedom and contempt for human rights. How much suffering and death!” he said. “Yet the Paraguayan people have also shown an admirable spirit of perseverance in surmounting adversities and in working to build a prosperous and peaceful nation.”
He mentioned specifically the Paraguayan women, saying that “as mothers, wives and widows, they shouldered the heaviest burdens; they found a way to move their families and their country forward, instilling in new generations the hope of a better tomorrow.”
Pope Francis said it was important for a people to remember its history, because it “makes us realize the tragedy and pointlessness of war. Let there be an end to wars between brothers! Let us always build peace! A peace which grows stronger day by day, a peace which makes itself felt in everyday life, a peace to which each person contributes by seeking to avoid signs of arrogance, hurtful words, contemptuousness, and instead by working to foster understanding, dialogue and cooperation.”
As he did in Ecuador and Bolivia, the Pontiff promoted dialogue, saying it is the “best means of promoting the common good, on the basis of a culture of encounter, respect and acknowledgment of the legitimate differences and opinions of others.”
“In the effort to overcome a spirit of constant conflict, convictions born of ideology or partisan interest should blend advantageously with love of the country and its people,” he continued. “That love must be the incentive to increased administrative transparency and unceasing efforts to combat corruption.”
The Holy Father mostly followed his prepared address, but did depart briefly from the text to affirm that Paraguayans are firmly resolved to fight corruption.
“May all social groups work to ensure that there will never again be children without access to schooling, families without homes, workers without dignified employment, small farmers without land to cultivate, or campesinos forced to leave their lands for an uncertain future,” he said. “May there be an end to violence, corruption and drug trafficking.”
The Pope concluded speaking of his “great joy” at having come to the country “consecrated to the Virgin of Caacupé, I invoke the Lord’s blessings on each of you, your families and all the beloved people of Paraguay,” he said.
At this point, he departed from his text again to remember Paraguayans who lived in Buenos Aires, where he was archbishop before his election to the See of Peter, and the parish there devoted to this representation of Our Lady.
“May this country be fruitful, as symbolized by the pasiflora flower on Our Lady’s mantle, and may the national colors which decorate her image draw all the Paraguayan people to embrace the Mother of Caacupé,” he concluded.
The Pope then greeted some members of the crowds individually and, with President Cartes, listened to a musical presentation.
Tomorrow, he will visit a children’s hospital and celebrate Mass at Caacupé. Then he will address civil society in the afternoon and pray vespers with the nation’s clergy and religious.
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