On Sunday, Bishop Eugenio Scarpellini of El Alto, Bolivia, placed at the feet of the Virgin of Copacabana the two awards  -- the Condor of the Andes and the Luis Espinal distinction – that President Evo Morales gave to Pope Francis during his visit to Bolivia last July.

At the end of the apostolic visit, at Mass in the Chapel of Cardinal Julio Terrazas’ residence, the Holy Father offered the awards so that the Blessed Virgin Mary would protect the Bolivian people with maternal tenderness.

“I pray that these honors, which I leave here in Bolivia at your feet, and which recall the nobility of the flight of the Condor in the skies of the Andes and the commemorated sacrifice of Father Luis Espinal, S.J., may be emblems of the everlasting love and persevering gratitude of the Bolivian people for your solicitous and intense tenderness,” the Holy Father prayed on July 10th.

“At this moment, Mother, I place in your heart my prayers for all the many petitions of your children, which I have received in these days: I beg you to hear them; give them your encouragement and protection, and manifest to the whole of Bolivia your tenderness as woman and Mother of God, who lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen.”

Bishop Scarpellini explained that the Pope’s intention is to “return affection with affection ... so that the decorations he received are constantly present in our midst.”

The decorations were placed at the feet of Bolivia’s Patroness during the Offertory of a Mass celebrated at the National Shrine of Our Lady of Copacabana, reported the Bolivian Episcopal Conference. They will remain there for a time and then be taken to a museum “as a permanent and perpetual memory of this visit of the Holy Father,” the Bishop of El Alto said.

During his return flight to Rome on July 13th, Pope Francis explained why he left the awards in Bolivia.

“First, I’ve never accepted honors. I don’t do it. But, [President Morales] did it with so much good will and with so much pleasure to please me. And, I thought that this comes from the people of Bolivia,” he said.

“So I prayed about it, what I should do. I thought, if I bring it to the Vatican it'll go to the museum and end up there. [So] I thought about leaving it with Our Lady of Copacabana, the Mother of Bolivia, which will go to the sanctuary. The two honors will be in the Shrine of Our Lady of Copacabana, the Madonna, while the Christ is coming with me.”