July 8, 2015 // Uncategorized

Pope Francis' visit to South America

Church is called to persevere in mission of welcoming all, pope says 

By Cindy Wooden

Pope Francis arrives in procession to celebrate Mass in Nu Guazu Park in Asuncion, Paraguay, July 12. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

ASUNCION, Paraguay (CNS) — Christians cannot force anyone to believe, but at the same time, no one can force Christians to stop being welcoming, loving and living in solidarity with others, Pope Francis said.

On the last day of his July 5-12 visit to South America, Pope Francis celebrated Mass with close to 1 million people at Asuncion’s Nu Guazu Park.

Artist Koki Ruiz designed the altar and stage, which was made of coconuts, corn cobs, gourds and other plants and vegetables. The artist built the massive structure at his studio and brought it to the park in pieces. As he assembled it, he allowed members of the public to sign the coconuts and write their prayer intentions on them.

The fruits of the earth and the expressions of local culture were obvious at the Mass with its prayers in Guarani, a native language, and with a variety of traditional hymns and percussion-punctuated songs.

Tens of thousands of people from Argentina, including President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner and Greek Orthodox Metropolitan Tarasios of Buenos Aires, also attended the Mass.

“Our communion with God always brings forth fruit, always gives life,” Pope Francis said in his homily.

A firm trust in God, he said, is learned within a family and within a community that has experienced the transforming power of God’s grace and knows it is called to share that grace with others.

“One thing is sure: We cannot force anyone to receive us, to welcome us; this is itself part of our poverty and freedom,” the pope told the crowd. At the same time, no one can “force us not to be welcoming, hospitable in the lives of our people. No one can tell us not to accept and embrace the lives of our brothers and sisters, especially those who have lost hope and zest for life.”

Mission, evangelization and sharing the faith are not programs, he said. They flow from a way of living in response to God’s blessings.

“How many times do we see evangelization as involving any number of strategies, tactics, maneuvers, techniques, as if we could convert people on the basis of our own arguments?” he asked.

The day’s Gospel reading from St. Mark, which tells of Jesus sending his disciples off two by two to cast out demons and heal the sick, makes it clear that “you do not convince people with arguments, strategies or tactics. You convince them by learning how to welcome them,” the pope said.

“The Church is a mother with an open heart,” he insisted. “She knows how to welcome and accept, especially those in need of greater care, those in greater difficulty.”

“How much pain can be soothed, how much despair can be allayed in a place where we feel at home,” he said.

The Gospel calls Jesus’ followers to welcome all those in need, materially and spiritually, he said. The Gospel calls Christians to welcome “those who do not think as we do, who do not have faith or who have lost it.”

The Church is blessed, the pope said, when it welcomes people of different cultures and when it welcomes sinners. “That is why we must keep our doors open, especially the doors to our hearts.”

Isolating oneself harms the individual and harms the community, Pope Francis said, which is why the Church has the mission of teaching Catholics to live in harmony with each other.

Jesus, he said, “is the new and definitive word which sheds light on so many situations of exclusion, disintegration, loneliness and isolation. He is the word which breaks the silence of loneliness.”


Pope greets patients, families at Paraguayan children’s hospital 

By Barbara J. Fraser

ASUNCION, Paraguay (CNS) — Pope Francis greeted patients and their families in a children’s hospital July 11 before traveling to the Marian shrine of Caacupe to celebrate Mass.

The pope spent about half an hour in the “Ninos de Acosta Nu” general pediatric hospital, where he visited various wards and spoke privately with children and parents.

Afterward, he spoke briefly to the crowd waiting outside. Instead of using the short prepared text, he spoke off the cuff, telling his listeners that Jesus became angry when His disciples did not allow children to approach Him.

He reminded those gathered that Jesus said only those who have the simplicity of children will enter the kingdom of heaven.

With his hand on the head of one small boy who had had his arms around the pontiff, Pope Francis said he knew that the parents and grandparents of sick children suffered and urged them to pray for the children.

He also encouraged the doctors, nurses and other staff of the hospital and thanked them for their work.

The “Ninos de Acosta Nu” hospital takes its name from a particularly brutal battle during the War of the Triple Alliance in the 1860s, when many children were killed and many mothers either had the task of recovering their children’s bodies or were killed with them.


Pope says Paraguayans in poor barrio remind him of Holy Family 

By Barbara J. Fraser

People wait for Pope Francis’ arrival to Banado Norte, a poor neighborhood in Asuncion, Paraguay, July 12. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

ASUNCION, Paraguay (CNS) — Pope Francis returned to his roots July 12 when he visited Banado Norte, a poor neighborhood near the Paraguay River where residents battle seasonal flooding and face possible eviction.

“I couldn’t be in Paraguay without being with you, in your land,” he told the crowd gathered outside St. John the Baptist chapel, one of 13 chapels in the huge Holy Family Parish. As archbishop of Buenos Aires, Argentina, Pope Francis ministered in similar neighborhoods.

Bishops in Paraguay had wanted the pope to meet with small farmers and indigenous people who have been forced off their land. When those groups were invited instead to a larger meeting with civic organizations, the bishops organized the visit to Banado Norte, one of a string of riverside neighborhoods called the Banados, which were mainly settled by migrants from rural areas.

The pope praised the people for their solidarity, calling it a “human and Christian virtue that you have, and which many, many of us have to learn.”

“It doesn’t matter how often you go to Sunday Mass,” the pope said. “If you don’t have a heart of solidarity, if you don’t know what is happening to your people, your faith is very weak, or it is sick, or it is dead. It is a faith without Christ, without God, without brothers and sisters.”

Faith and solidarity are the greatest message that the people of the Banados can send to the rest of the country, Pope Francis said. He warned, however, that “the devil wants you to fight among yourselves, because that’s the way he divides you, defeats you and robs you of your faith.”

Pope Francis said the families he met as he walked down an alley in Banado Norte reminded him of the Holy Family.

“They also had to leave all they had and go to another land, where they knew no one, where they had no home or family,” he said.

And the first witnesses to Jesus’ birth were shepherds, “whose lives are also governed by the inclemency of weather and other types of inclemency,” he said.

That message resonated with Carmen Sanchez, who welcomed Pope Francis to her tiny, dark house in an alley behind the chapel where he greeted and blessed her and her neighbors.

When Sanchez’s mother arrived from a rural town 60 years ago, this boggy area beside the Paraguay River was the only land available to poor migrants.

“It was awful, all water and mud,” Sanchez told Catholic News Service. “Her home was made of mud bricks.”

Other families arrived, gradually filling in the worst of the muddy areas and building the Banados, which stretch for kilometers along the riverbank.

Every year around April or May, the water level rises and the river often overflows its banks. In 2014, it nearly reached to the door of the tiny chapel where the pope spoke to the people who crowded into the muddy sports field, waving yellow and white scarves and cheering him warmly.

Every year, some families are forced to leave their homes and take refuge with relatives elsewhere or camp along roads on higher ground, Jesuit Father Ireneo Valdez, pastor of Holy Family Parish, told CNS. Last year’s flooding displaced most of his parish’s 20,000-plus families.

As Pope Francis visited the chapel and spoke to the crowd, he was flanked by huge posters of letters and drawings by about 2,500 children from schools, welcoming him, recounting the problems of their families and neighborhoods — flooding, drugs, crime, sickness, separation — and asking his blessing.

Several children expressed fear that their families will be forced to move.

That is on the minds of most adults, as well. The city government has plans to fill in the area, extend a riverside highway, raze the houses built by people like Sanchez’s mother and replace them with upscale shopping centers and apartment buildings.

“They want to take us away from of our places,” Maria Josefina Chamorro, chapel coordinator, told CNS. “We built this chapel ourselves. We have schools and a health center. It would be sad to be taken away from all of this, which we built with so much effort and sacrifice, to a place where we would have to start all over.”

Before Pope Francis’ visit, Maria Garcia, who heads an umbrella group of 11 community organizations, told CNS residents of the Banados lack property titles, and some areas do not even show on maps.

As the pontiff sat on the stage beside the chapel July 12, Garcia described the problem to him and called for affordable land titles, “decent housing or the possibility of improving what we have, health care and the possibility of a decent education.”

Most Banados residents eke out a living by fishing, gathering and selling recyclable materials, laboring as masons or carpenters, cleaning windshields at traffic lights or selling items on the street, Father Valdez said.

City officials have tried to relocate people to housing elsewhere, but because their livelihoods center around the riverbank neighborhoods, they return.

He and Garcia called for a solution that would allow people to stay in their neighborhoods.

“We can’t oppose economic growth, but it needs to be better distributed,” Father Valdez said. “The policies need to benefit the people who live here.”

The neighborhood organizations have a counterproposal for development that would allow the Banados residents to remain in their neighborhoods, Garcia said, but they have not gotten a hearing from the city government.

Local residents said they hoped the pope’s visit would call attention to their plight, but they noted that city workers who improved their rutted road before the pope’s arrival spread gravel only as far as the chapel he would visit, leaving just a muddy track beyond it.

As Pope Francis bade farewell to the crowd before returning through the alley past Sanchez’s house to head for Mass in Nu Guazu Park, he offered a final word of encouragement.

“Keep going,” he told the crowd, “and don’t let the devil divide you.”


Highlighting prisoners, pope stops to listen to Paraguayan inmates sing 

By Barbara J. Fraser

ASUNCION, Paraguay (CNS) — Pope Francis stopped to listen to 50 women prison inmates sing a welcoming song as he traveled from the airport to the papal nuncio’s residence upon arriving in Paraguay July 10.

Although brief, the stop outside the Good Shepherd women’s prison, where he blessed the women and received a hand-embroidered stole from them, reinforced the concern for prisoners expressed in Bolivia earlier that day.

The event also cheered the women, who had prepared the song with the director of the chorus in the prison, a former convent that now houses about 500 inmates.

“It was a moment of happiness, of emotion, a moment that was like a surprise from Jesus, (who) was a prisoner once,” chorus member Maria Lorenza Vasquez said. “We’re grateful. We had prepared more music and would have liked to have sung it, but the time passed so quickly.”

The pope did not enter the prison, but he stepped down from the popemobile and approached the stage for a few minutes.

Father Luis Arias, prison chaplain, called the stop “confirmation of a miracle from God,” because it was not on the pope’s original schedule.

The idea of asking Pope Francis to listen to their song came from the women, who “never gave up hope that the pope would stop at the prison,” Father Arias said. “They started to prepare themselves spiritually and to sing every day.”

Even before Pope Francis arrived, the news that he would pause at the prison had an effect, Father Arias said. Prison life became better organized, and more people volunteered assistance.

Like the Palmasola penitentiary in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, Paraguay’s prisons are overcrowded, and about 70 percent of the inmates have not been sentenced, Father Arias said.

Celestina Ruiz, 42, one of the two women who presented the pope with an embroidered stole that had been made by other inmates, has been in prison for a year and 10 months without a sentence.

“The hardest thing is being separated from my family,” she said.

The pope gave a blessing and a kiss on the cheek to Andrea Garcete, who joined Ruiz in presenting the gift.

“Receiving the pope’s blessing is like a ray of hope for receiving my freedom,” said Garcia, who is awaiting parole.

“I would ask his blessing on all of us and on our families, especially health and strength, because being deprived of freedom is very difficult, not so much for us, but for our families,” said Garcete, who has a 14-year-old son.

After the pope left, relatives of some of the inmates crowded around the stage, snapping photographs as the women continued to sing.

The Good Shepherd prison, a former convent, is built around a courtyard where all the inmates gathered after the pope’s visit. Father Arias and staff members handed out sandwiches and drinks to the women, some of whom held small children in their arms.

The prison has an area called Amanecer, the Spanish word for dawn, where children can live with their mothers until around age 4.

Father Arias has seen some changes in the prison in recent years. Besides the creation of Amanecer, prisoners can reduce their sentences by working and studying. And the Church and government have joined efforts to set up halfway houses for people released from prison who have nowhere to go.

But more improvements are needed in the country’s prison system, where food and medicine are often in short supply, Father Arias said.

“If we paid more attention to prisons, it would help a lot of things,” he said. “You can’t solve the problem of security in the country with repression. You solve it with education and formation. It’s important to invest in that.”

Brief as the visit was, he believes that Pope Francis’ pause outside Good Shepherd, or Buen Pastor as it is known locally, will raise awareness of the situation in the country’s correction centers.

“Many people are going to find out more and will begin to become concerned about their brothers and sisters who are in prison,” he said.


Close to home, pope highlights need for cooperation for common good 

By Cindy Wooden

Pope Francis celebrates Mass outside the Caacupe Marian Shrine in Asuncion, Paraguay, July 11. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

CAACUPE, Paraguay (CNS) — Pope Francis was as close to home as he has been since becoming pope in March 2013 as he celebrated Mass at Paraguay’s popular shrine of Our Lady of Miracles of Caacupe.

Only 25 miles from the border with Argentina, tens of thousands of Pope Francis’ fellow Argentines filled the square in front of the shrine and the streets around it July 11 to pray with “their” pope.

While not expected to be the biggest or the most important event during the pope’s July 10-12 visit to Paraguay, the Mass highlighted his affection for the Paraguayan people and, particularly, for their cultures and popular religiosity.

“Being here with you makes me feel at home, at the feet of our mother, the Virgin of Miracles of Caacupe,” Pope Francis said in his homily. “We come bringing our lives, because here we are at home and it is wonderful to know there is someone waiting for us.”

At the Mass — and during an evening meeting July 10 with government officials and diplomats at the presidential palace in Asuncion — Pope Francis expressed his admiration for Paraguayan women. They are credited with keeping the country going during and after the war of 1864-1870, a disaster for Paraguay in which the majority of the country’s men died.

“The women — wives and mothers of Paraguay — at great cost and sacrifice were able to lift up a country defeated, devastated and laid low by war,” the pope said.

The Mass and other papal events were celebrated in Spanish and Guarani, a native language. The vast majority of the nation’s people are of mixed Spanish and Guarani heritage and most of the population speaks both languages.

At the Mass at the Caacupe shrine, Pope Francis himself introduced the Our Father in Guarani, praying, “Ore Ru, yvagape reimeva. …”

The papal visit had begun with a tribute to St. John Paul II, beloved by many Paraguayans as a world leader who stood up to Gen. Alfredo Stroessner, who ruled the country for 35 years. The dictator was overthrown by a military coup in 1989 and the process of consolidating democracy and building national unity continues.

“I wish to pay tribute to the many ordinary Paraguayan people, whose names are not written in history books but who have been, and continue to be, the real protagonists in the life of your nation,” the pope said July 10 during the evening reception at the presidential palace.

After the speeches that evening, the pope and the invited dignitaries were treated to a concert. The program, “The Voice of God in the Selvas of Paraguay,” featured a selection of baroque music traced to the so-called “Jesuit reductions,” the missions run by Jesuits in Paraguay and neighboring countries from the early 1600s to 1767. The concert included music from the film “The Mission,” which recounts the story of the reductions.

During a rousing meeting July 11 with “representatives of civil society” — teachers, artists, business leaders, communications professionals, indigenous leaders and farmers — Pope Francis said he was impressed by the variety of groups and their commitment to working for the common good.

Simon Cazal, co-founder of Somos Gay, a homosexual rights group in Paraguay, was among those invited to attend the meeting. He told the British newspaper the Guardian that he hoped the invitation would make Paraguayans more tolerant.

At the beginning of the meeting, Bishop Adalberto Martinez Flores, general secretary of the bishops’ conference, told Pope Francis that when St. John Paul visited in 1988 only 10 percent of the groups existed, which shows how “the authoritarian regime weakened the social and moral fabric of the nation to extreme levels.”

Responding to questions from a young man, an indigenous man, a woman who farms, a businesswoman and a public official, Pope Francis added notes to his prepared text and tried to be concrete in his suggestions for moving the nation forward.

With President Cartes and members of his cabinet sitting in the front row, Pope Francis insisted that trading votes for favors — “something that happens in every country” — is a form of corruption and will hold the country back.

Taking the microphone back after a prayer, Pope Francis told the crowd, “If you are wondering who I am talking about, tell yourself, ‘He’s talking to me!'”

Progress requires creating culture of encounter, he said, and that comes only from recognizing that all people are children of God and, therefore, brothers and sisters to one another.

“True cultures are not closed in on themselves, but called to meet other cultures and to create new realities,” he said. “If someone thinks that there are persons, cultures or situations which are second, third or fourth class, surely things will go badly, because the bare minimum — a recognition of the dignity of the other — is lacking.

Turning to the question of economic growth, Pope Francis insisted that a morally correct economic life puts people before profits.

“Certainly every country needs economic growth and the creation of wealth,” he said. “But the creation of this wealth must always be at the service of the common good, and not only for the benefit of a few.”

Those blessed with the ability to promote economic development — business owners, entrepreneurs and government officials — have a responsibility always to keep the needs of real people in mind, the pope said.

Jobs are a right and bestow dignity, he said. “Putting bread on the table, putting a roof over the heads of one’s children, giving them health and an education — these are essential for human dignity.”

Pope Francis asked the influential leaders “not to yield to an economic model which is idolatrous, which needs to sacrifice human lives on the altar of money and profit.”

“A more humane society is possible,” the pope said, pointing to the experience of the Jesuit reductions.

Calling the Jesuit mission settlements “among the most significant experiences of evangelization and social organization in history,” he said members of the communities “did not know hunger, unemployment, illiteracy or oppression.”

The settlements offer a lesson, he said, that “where there is love of people and a willingness to serve them, it is possible to create the conditions necessary for everyone to have access to basic goods, so that no one goes without.”


Pope honors St. John Paul’s historic visit to Paraguay 

By Cindy Wooden

Pope Francis blesses a plaque commemorating St. John Paul II’s 1988 visit during the arrival ceremony at Silvio Pettirossi International Airport in Asuncion, Paraguay, July 10. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

ASUNCION, Paraguay (CNS) — Arriving in Paraguay July 10, Pope Francis paid tribute to the historic visit to the country made in 1988 by St. John Paul II, a visit many people saw as contributing to the end of one of the world’s longest military dictatorships.

Welcomed at the Asuncion airport by President Horacio Cartes, who was elected in 2013 and has a son named Juan Pablo, Pope Francis made the sign of the cross, took a green branch, dipped it in water and blessed a plaque commemorating St. John Paul’s visit 27 years ago.

When the Polish pope made his trip to Paraguay, the president was Gen. Alfredo Stroessner, who had come to power in a military coup in 1954 and led the country until 1989. His strongly anti-communist rule was known for its harsh treatment of all political opposition and for torture. A military coup put an end to his rule.

In the midst of social strife and strong opposition to Stroessner’s rule, opposition that saw even priests jailed or expelled from the country, Pope John Paul told the general that the Church cannot be confined to “its places of worship.”

The Catholic Church, the pope had said, is committed to promoting freedom and honesty in public and private circles, defending life and favoring the rights of people.

St. John Paul used formal and polite language to be direct. He told the Paraguayan dictator, “Respect for human rights, as is well known, is not a question of political convenience, but rather it derives from the dignity of the person in virtue of his condition as a creature of God called to a transcendent destiny.”

Although there was intermittent rain, Pope Francis’ arrival ceremony was held outdoors. With the familiar soundtrack from the film, “The Mission,” playing in the background, the ceremony began with a two-minute video recounting St. John Paul’s visit at a dark time in Paraguay’s history.

The mood lightened quickly when young people, dressed in traditional indigenous and colonial costumes, danced for Pope Francis. The scene included three stars — youths dressed as statues of St. Roque Gonzalez, Jesus and Mary — who were carried on platforms to the performance area as if they were the beloved statues that feature in feast day processions in many countries with a Latin tradition.


At Marian shrine, pope reminds clergy, religious: Remember your roots 

By Barbara J. Fraser

Pope Francis places flowers at a statue of Mary before meeting with clergy, religious men and women, and seminarians at the El Quinche National Marian Shrine in Quito, Ecuador, July 8. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

QUITO, Ecuador (CNS) — Clergy and religious must remember that all they have is freely given by God and they must never forget where they came from, Pope Francis told sisters, priests, seminarians and bishops gathered July 8 at the El Quinche Marian shrine near here.

Following those principles allows ministers to serve with joy, even when one is fed up with people, he said.

On the fourth day of a trip that is taking the pope to three countries with indigenous populations, the pope urged his listeners, “Don’t forget where you came from.”

Noting that some priests and religious who grow up speaking an “ancient and noble” indigenous language later give it up, he said: “It’s very sad when they don’t want to speak it. It means they forgot where they came from.”

The pope drew applause when he dropped local words into his speech. He used “guagua,” the Quechua word for “baby,” at one point. And in his retelling of the story of Samuel’s search for David, who would become king of Israel, Samuel addressed Jesse, David’s father, with the Argentine slang word, “che.”

Abandoning his prepared text, the pope used Mary as an example of awareness of God’s freely given love.

When priests or religious lose sight of that gift, “we start to feel that we are important and gradually distance ourselves from that starting point from which Mary never strayed,” he said.

As the pope entered the Marian shrine, the site of one of Ecuador’s most important religious devotions, priests and sisters crowded close and reached out to touch his vestments.

He placed a bouquet of roses on the altar and prayed before the statue before speaking to the audience.

“Mary was never the protagonist. She was a disciple all her life, her son’s first disciple,” he said.

He advised his listeners, “Every day, perhaps before you go to sleep, turn your gaze to Jesus and say, ‘You have given me everything for free,’ and get yourself back on track.”

The story of Samuel choosing David, the shepherd boy, is a reminder that “God looks at things differently from the way people do,” the pope said.

“God said, ‘that’s the one,’ and took him out from behind the flock,” he said. “Who am I if they took me from behind the flock?”

Warning his listeners against the illness of “spiritual Alzheimer’s,” Pope Francis said: “Don’t forget where you came from. Do not deny your roots.”

Awareness of the gratuitous nature of God’s gifts — including the call to a vocation — and avoiding a false sense of importance give ministers the strength to serve with joy, the pope said.

The role of priests and religious is “to serve, and nothing else — and to serve when we are tired, when we are fed up with people,” the pope said. “Those who serve must let themselves get fed up without losing patience.”

Service also must be given freely, he said.

“What you received for free, please give it freely. Please do not charge for grace,” the pope said.

Recalling the joy, cordiality and piety with which Ecuadoreans welcomed him during his visit, he told the priests and religious that he had prayed to understand “the recipe” for that attitude of faith.

Part of the answer lies in the country’s consecration to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, he said, but “another recipe, along the same line, is the sense of freely given love like that of Jesus, who became poor to enrich us with his poverty — pure gratuitousness.”


At Bolivian prison, pope calls himself man ‘saved from his many sins’ 

By David Agren

Inmates watch during Pope Francis’ visit to the Palmasola prison in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, July 10. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

SANTA CRUZ, Bolivia (CNS) — Pope Francis visited one of Latin America’s most notorious prisons, calling himself “a man who was and is saved from his many sins.”

“I couldn’t leave Bolivia without seeing you, without sharing the hope and faith given in the cross,” he told people at Palmasola prison in Santa Cruz.

Speaking on the final morning of his less than 48-hour visit to Bolivia, the pope called for conversion and a changing of attitudes among inmates in their relations among each other and the broader society, which often views such populations with suspicions.

“When Jesus becomes part of our lives, we can no longer remain imprisoned by our past,” Pope Francis said. “Instead, we begin to look to the present, and we see it differently, with a different kind of hope.”

The visit again reflected the pope’s preoccupation for prison populations, who, in Latin America, often serve their sentences in overcrowded and violent facilities — if they’re sentenced at all.

Palmasola has an especially notorious reputation, especially after a 2013 incident in which a gang armed with improvised flamethrowers killed 31 inmates and left more than 30 others badly burned.

Three inmates told Pope Francis of their tribulations inside the prison.

“I consider this place to be Sodom and Gomorrah. There is no control here,” Leonidas Martinez, who has spent 18 years in Palmasola, told Pope Francis. “No authority does anything to stop any of this abuse.”

Papal well-wishers lined a muddy road to the prison, where families of the inmates say they have to pay for everything on the inside — including food and places to sleep. The prison is open for the most part, families say, with an economy of shops, services and food spots set up; the wives and children of some inmates live on the inside.

The prison ministry reports 84 percent of inmates have not been convicted of any crimes. Overcrowding in prisons tops 300 percent. Access to justice is limited, and inmates are forced to pay the transportation costs or give gas money to attend their court days.

“(It’s) judicial terrorism,” while those with money pay for lawyers and exit quickly, said Analia Parada, who spoke for the female prison population, which included “many pregnant women.”

Prison officials spend the equivalent of 87 cents per prisoner per day on food, forcing families to feed and maintain their loved ones on the inside.

“You can imagine the kind of food we’re being given,” inmate Andres de Jesus Cespedes, 19, told Pope Francis.

Equally difficult for the inmate population, most of whom have not been sentenced, “No one knows how long they will be here,” he added.

Officials of the Bolivian bishops’ prison ministry were blunt in their assessment of the problems in Bolivia’s prisons.

“Holy Father, we have to tell you with the prophetic voice of a committed church: It’s a scandal for Bolivia,” said Archbishop Jesus Juarez Parraga of Sucre, president of Caritas Bolivia and national director of its prison ministry.

“We see in (the inmates) the contradictory signal of being victims and victimizers, the evidence of a society that produces poverty, inequality and violence; the weakness of morals in the family, education and even in religions,” he said.

The papal visit, Archbishop Juarez added, “makes real and present the words of Jesus: ‘I was in prison and you came to visit me.'”

Pope Francis called for solidarity with prison populations, but also for inmates to show solidarity among themselves.

“Being imprisoned, ‘shut in,’ is not the same thing as being ‘shut out.’ Detention is part of a process of reintegration into society,” Pope Francis said. “The way you live together depends to some extent on yourselves. Suffering and deprivation can make us selfish of heart and lead to confrontation.

“Do not be afraid to help one another. The devil is looking for rivalry, division, gangs.”

The pope ended his speech by asking the inmates to pray for him, “because I, too, have my mistakes, and I too must do penance.”



Pope to activists: Defend the earth, demand economic reform

By Cindy Wooden

Pope Francis greets a young girl as he participates in the second World Meeting of Popular Movements in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, July 9. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

SANTA CRUZ, Bolivia (CNS) — Meeting with an international gathering of grassroots activists, Pope Francis not only encouraged, but tried to add fuel to their fire for “standing up to an idolatrous (economic) system which excludes, debases and kills.”

Addressing the World Meeting of Popular Movements in Santa Cruz July 9, Pope Francis acknowledged he did not have a “recipe” for a perfect economic-social-political system, but he said the problems with the current system are obvious and the Gospel contains principles that can help.

The activists — including labor union representatives and people who organize cooperatives for the poor who make a meager living recycling trash or farming small plots or fishing — combat “many forms of exclusion and injustice,” the pope said.

“Yet there is an invisible thread joining every one of those forms of exclusion,” the pope said. They all are the result of a global economic system that “has imposed the mentality of profit at any price, with no concern for social exclusion or the destruction of nature.”

The current global finance system is “intolerable,” he said. “Farmworkers find it intolerable, laborers find it intolerable, communities find it intolerable, peoples find it intolerable. The earth itself — our sister, Mother Earth, as St. Francis would say — also finds it intolerable.”

At the meeting, sponsored by the Vatican and organized with the help of Bolivian President Evo Morales, Pope Francis shared the sense of urgency shown by participants, who adopted a long statement of commitments promising to mobilize in the defense of the rights of the poor and of the Earth.

“Time, my brothers and sisters, seems to be running out; we are not yet tearing one another apart, but we are tearing apart our common home,” the earth, he said.

“Perhaps the most important” task facing the world today, the pope said, “is to defend Mother Earth. Our common home is being pillaged, laid waste and harmed with impunity. Cowardice in defending it is a grave sin.”

“Today, the scientific community realizes what the poor have long told us: Harm, perhaps irreversible harm, is being done to the ecosystem,” Pope Francis said. “The earth, entire peoples and individual persons are being brutally punished” by the effects of pollution, exploitation and climate change.

“And behind all this pain, death and destruction there is the stench of what Basil of Caesarea called ‘the dung of the devil’ — an unfettered pursuit of money,” the pope said.

When money becomes a person’s god, he said, greed becomes the chief motivator of what people do, permit or support. In the end, he said, “it ruins society, it condemns and enslaves men and women, it destroys human fraternity, it sets people against one another and, as we clearly see, it even puts at risk our common home.”

In a talk that had harsh words for those who exploit the poor or destroy the environment, Pope Francis also very formally spoke to the indigenous people present about the Catholic Church’s cooperation with the Spanish and Portuguese who settled much of the Americas.

“I say this to you with regret: Many grave sins were committed against the native peoples of America in the name of God,” the pope said. “Here I wish to be quite clear, as was St. John Paul II: I humbly ask forgiveness, not only for the offenses of the church herself, but also for crimes committed against the native peoples during the so-called conquest of America.”

At the same time, Pope Francis asked the meeting participants to recognize that many Catholics — priests, nuns and laity — willingly gave their lives in service to the continent’s peoples.

Most people, including the poor participating in the Santa Cruz meeting, he said, wonder how they can make a difference in the face of such huge problems and an economic system that seems to shrug off any effort at accountability.

The pope urged participants to look to Mary, “a humble girl from small town lost on the fringes of a great empire, a homeless mother who turned an animals’ stable into a home for Jesus with just a few swaddling clothes and much tenderness.”

The pope and the Catholic Church do not have a program or “recipe” for solving the problems of injustice and poverty in the world, he said. But it is clear that the economy should be “at the service of peoples. Human beings and nature must not be at the service of money.”

“Let us say ‘no’ to an economy of exclusion and inequality, where money rules, rather than service. That economy kills. That economy excludes. That economy destroys Mother Earth,” he said.

The change the popular movements are working for and the inspiration for Catholic social justice efforts cannot be an ideology, he said; it must be about people.

A person with a heart, the pope said, is moved not by cold statistics, but by “the pain of a suffering humanity, our own pain, our own flesh.”

Pope Francis said the goal must be the creation of “a truly communitarian economy, one might say an economy of Christian inspiration.” Its hallmarks are respect for human dignity, guaranteeing a right to land, housing and work, but also access to education, health care, culture, communications and recreation.

“It is an economy where human beings, in harmony with nature, structure the entire system of production and distribution in such a way that the abilities and needs of each individual find suitable expression in social life,” he said.

Such an economy is not a dream, he said. The people, the talent and the resources exist.

In working toward a new economy, Pope Francis called the popular movements “social poets,” people who are “creators of work, builders of housing and producers of food, above all for people left behind by the world market.”

One does not need to be rich or powerful to impact the future of humanity, he said. The future “is fundamentally in the hands of peoples and in their ability to organize.”

“Keep up your struggle and, please, take great care of Mother Earth,” the pope told the gathering. “I pray for you and with you.”

At the end of his 55-minute speech, Pope Francis made his customary request that his audience pray for him, but knowing that many of the meeting participants are not believers, he asked those who cannot pray to “think well of me and send me good vibes.”


Hammer-sickle crucifix raises eyebrows during pope’s visit to Bolivia 

By Cindy Wooden

SANTA CRUZ, Bolivia (CNS) — When Bolivian President Evo Morales gave Pope Francis a crucifix atop a hammer and sickle, eyebrows were raised, including the pope’s.

But, as Morales explained, the cross was created by Jesuit Father Luis Espinal, who was assassinated in 1980 after being active in the country’s pro-democracy movement.

The pope and president were surrounded with clicking cameras July 8 during the gift presentation in the government palace in La Paz.

A Vatican television camera was present but, as Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, told reporters, the audio is almost impossible understand.

At least one media outlet reported the pope saying, “That’s not right,” (“No esta bien eso”) but several others said the pope, who was speaking Spanish, responded, “I didn’t know that” (“Eso no lo sabia”) when Morales explained the cross was based on a design by Father Espinal.

Father Lombardi, who said neither he nor the Jesuit pope had ever seen or heard of Father Espinal’s crucifix, said he believes it is much more likely that the pope admitted to not knowing its origin than to saying it was wrong.

After discussing the cross with several Jesuits July 9, Father Lombardi said that Father Espinal, who “was an artist, very creative,” made the crucifix as an expression of his belief in the need for dialogue involving all Bolivians at a time of great political tension and upheaval.

For Father Espinal “it was not ideological,” Father Lombardi said; he was not giving “a Marxist interpretation of the faith.”

How other people interpret the piece or use it today is another question, the spokesman said.

“Certainly, though, it will not be put in a church,” he said.

The crucifix, he added, was “an expression of what Father Espinal was living” at the time he made it.

Asked his personal reaction to the piece, Father Lombardi said he tried to understand the origin of the piece and what Father Espinal intended when he made it.

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Editors: Background on Father Espinal and his crucifix can be found at http://tinyurl.com/oj26wfv.


Eucharistic sharing is call to mission, to feeding the poor, pope says 

By Cindy Wooden

Pope Francis gives the homily as he celebrates Mass in Christ the Redeemer Square in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, July 9. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

SANTA CRUZ, Bolivia (CNS) — The Eucharist is a missionary sacrament; it calls people to give all they are and have to God, seek his blessing and then take his love to the world, Pope Francis said at the opening Mass for Bolivia’s national eucharistic congress.

Obeying Jesus’ command to “do this in memory of me,” he said, “demands exchange, encounter and a genuine solidarity.”

“It demands the logic of love,” the pope said July 9 at the Mass in Santa Cruz’ central Christ the Redeemer Square.

People from Bolivia and from throughout South America flocked to the city for the Mass, setting up a tent city July 8 on the four main roads converging in the square. The government set up jumbo screens along the roads for those unable to get close to the papal altar, even though they had camped out.

“We have come from a variety of places, areas and villages, to celebrate the living presence of God among us,” the pope told them. The Argentina-born pope who, in Bolivia, has insisted on the importance of the church’s role in Latin American culture and history, said many of the countries represented at the Mass “were born of the name of Jesus.”

David Flores, a volunteer with the Diocese of Tarija, on the Argentine border, said he came to the Mass praying that “there is a conversion in each person” and that such change in individuals would lead to “an improved political climate and peace between the government and church.”

Cesar Justiniano, an engineering student and volunteer for the papal visit, said, “We need to believe again in God being the solution.”

In his homily, Pope Francis said that when life gets difficult, people can forget how much God has done for them and their hope can fade. When that happens, the pope said, the temptation is to “think only of ourselves” and close our hearts to the needs of others, especially the poor.

Referring to the Gospel story of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes, Pope Francis pointed out that the disciples did not think it would be possible to feed so many people, and they thought Jesus should send the crowd away.

Like the disciples, he said, “faced with so many kinds of hunger in our world, we can say to ourselves: ‘Things don’t add up; we will never manage, there is nothing to be done.'”

But Jesus said to the disciples and says to all his followers today, “You give them something to eat.”

“Those words of Jesus have a particular resonance for us today,” the pope said. “No one needs to go away, no one has to be discarded; you yourselves, give them something to eat. Jesus speaks these words to us, here in this square.”

Jesus takes the little bread and fish available, the pope said, “he blesses them and then gives them to his disciples to share with the crowd. This is how the miracle takes place. It is not magic or sorcery.”

But Jesus’ starting point is not the little bit of food at hand, the pope said. Rather, it is the people before him and their needs.

“He is not so much concerned about material objects, cultural treasures or lofty ideas. He is concerned with people,” Pope Francis said.

Jesus takes what is available, and he offers it to God for a blessing, a sign that “he knows that everything is God’s gift.”

A blessing, he explained, is both an act of thanksgiving and of transformation: “It is a recognition that life is always a gift which, when placed in the hands of God, starts to multiply. Our Father never abandons us; he makes everything multiply.”

The Eucharist is the supreme act of blessing — of thanksgiving and transformation, Pope Francis said. It is “a sacrament of communion, which draws us out of our individualism in order to live together as disciples. It gives us the certainty that all that we have, all that we are, if it is taken, blessed and given, can, by God’s power, by the power of his love, become bread of life for all.”

As people called to remember Jesus’ supreme sacrifice in the celebration of the Eucharist, the pope said, Catholics must be people of “encounter and a genuine solidarity.” Partaking in the Eucharist “demands the logic of love.”

Dora Villaruel, a social science professor from Santa Cruz, said, “The pope is showing the inequality that we all need to overcome. Inequality is so noticeable here. A lot of discrimination exists, too.”

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Contributing to this story was David Agren.


Papal visit to home spotlights plight of seniors in many countries 

By Barbara J. Fraser

A elderly woman speaks with a young woman before Pope Francis’ encounter for the elderly in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican Sept. 28. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

QUITO, Ecuador (CNS) — Pope Francis’ visit to a home for the destitute elderly in Quito was that of a pastor, but it was also a reminder of the lack of care and services for senior citizens in countries like this one, where the population is still mainly young.

During the half-hour visit to the home run by the Missionaries of Charity July 8, the pope blessed each resident, the workers and the sisters, pausing often to exchange words with them or embrace them.

His gestures underscored his message, repeated often during his visit to Ecuador, that the elderly are a source of wisdom and hold the memory of a people — and that they, too, often are abandoned.

As extended families give way to nuclear families in Latin America’s developing countries, where the population is still mainly young, the church struggles to fill the gap in social services, Sandro Flores, director of social ministry for Caritas in the Archdiocese of Quito, told Catholic News Service.

The government has streamlined health care for senior citizens at public hospitals and provides a stipend of $50 per person monthly.

But that falls short in a city where just the cost of food for a month is calculated at about $120 and rental of a room with a shared bathroom could run from $50 to $350 monthly, depending on the neighborhood.

“People often say to me, ‘Why did I ever retire?’ or ‘It’s unpleasant to get old,'” Flores said. “That’s when loneliness begins for them. That’s one of the most serious problems for senior citizens here.”

The 50 parish Caritas programs in the archdiocese provide meals, medicine and clothing to about 800 seniors a month, but Flores estimates they represent barely 15 percent of those who need assistance.

Several religious groups run homes such as the one Pope Francis visited, and the Quito city government offers day programs with physical and occupational therapy, but gerontology is still a rare specialty in a country where about half the population is under 30, he said.

Flores welcomed the pontiff’s message.

“Before he became pope, even before he became a bishop, Pope Francis paid special attention to elderly people, because he loved his grandmother dearly,” Flores said.

“He believes we should not throw away the experience that comes with age. That is the source of our formation in the faith and our cultural and social formation,” he said “We must not allow them to be victims of what Pope Francis calls our ‘throwaway culture.'”



In democracy, all groups must have voice, pope tells Ecuadorean leaders 

By Barbara J. Fraser

Pope Francis embraces a girl during a meeting with representatives of civil society in the Church of St. Francis in Quito, Ecuador, July 7. At right is Ecuadorean Cardinal Raul Vela Chiriboga. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

QUITO, Ecuador (CNS) — Saying that having received the keys to the city made him “at home” here, Pope Francis called for inclusiveness, dialogue and mutual respect in civic life in Ecuador and the rest of Latin America.

In a democracy, all social groups — indigenous people, those of African descent, women, civic groups and those in public services — must have a voice, the pope told representatives of civic organizations gathered at the Church of St. Francis in Quito July 7.

The Church contributes to the “quest for the common good” through education and social activities that promote “ethical and spiritual values.”

Pope Francis’ call for dialogue came at a time when leaders of Ecuadorean nonprofit groups, especially human rights and environmental organizations, complain that they are harassed when they criticize the government.

The pope called for justice in the use of natural resources, saying the earth is “an inheritance from our parents, but also a loan from future generations, to whom we must return it.”

Returning to the theme of the family, which has run through his homilies and speeches here, Pope Francis said the basic values of love, fraternity and mutual respect, which are learned at home, “translate into essential values for society as a whole: giving freely, solidarity and subsidiarity.”

Just as children learn to share what they have received freely from their families, justice requires the sharing of goods and natural resources to ensure that all have a decent life, the pope said.

Mentioning Ecuador specifically, the pope said that natural resources should not be tapped for immediate gain, but must be managed so future generations can also enjoy them.

Conflicts in this country in recent years, especially in the Amazon region and along the southern border with Peru, have centered on plans to drill for oil under Yasuni National Park, which is also home to two nomadic indigenous groups that largely shun outside contact, and to allow open-pit mining for minerals such as copper and gold.

Critics fear the projects will harm indigenous communities and contradict the Ecuadorean Constitution’s protection of the rights of nature, which President Rafael Correa highlighted in his welcoming remarks to the pope July 5.

Similar conflicts have erupted in other countries, including Peru and Bolivia, where governments depend on natural resources such as minerals and timber to boost economic growth.

The pope warned, however, that economic growth “must reach everyone, and not remain merely a matter of statistics,” adding, “Without solidarity, that is not possible.”

Problems common to many of the region’s countries — including migration, urban growth, consumerism, the crisis of the family, unemployment and persistent pockets of poverty — must be addressed jointly by governments and the wider society, Pope Francis said.

Both legislation and civic actions must “promote inclusion, open avenues for dialogue, and leave behind the painful memory of any type of repression, disproportionate control and the erosion of freedoms,” he said to applause from the audience, which included business and indigenous leaders and members of various civic groups.

Opponents of the Correa administration charge that the government has taken advantage of its majority in the legislature to impose new measures, including a communications law that restricts freedom of expression.

Echoing one of his messages from the previous day’s homily, Pope Francis urged subsidiarity, or respect for diversity, saying that each person makes a particular contribution to the common good.

“Recognizing that (one’s own) choice is not necessarily the only legitimate one is a healthy exercise in humility,” he said. “Dialogue is crucial for arriving at the truth, which cannot be imposed, but which must be sought with sincerity and a critical spirit.”

Society as a whole must mirror the family, where members share their joys and sorrows and love each other as they are, despite their faults, Pope Francis said.

“Do we love our society?” he asked. “Do we love our country, the community we are trying to build?”


Educate young to care for others, for the earth, pope tells teachers 

By Cindy Wooden

Pope Francis greets a young woman who gave a testimonial during a meeting with representatives of schools and universities at the Pontifical Catholic University of Ecuador in Quito July 7. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

QUITO, Ecuador (CNS) — Education is a right and a privilege that should impart not only knowledge and skills, but also a sense of responsibility for others and for the earth, Pope Francis told representatives of Ecuadorean schools and universities.

“God gives us not only life, he gives us the earth, he gives us all of creation,” the pope told an estimated 5,000 educators and students gathered for an outdoor meeting at the Pontifical Catholic University of Ecuador.

God created man and woman for each other and gave them huge potential, the pope said July 7, but he also gave them — and gives each person — a mission to be part of His creative work.

“I am giving you seeds, soil, water and sun,” the pope said God tells human beings. God gave people hands and gave them one another; he gave everything as a gift, the pope said.

Quoting from and explaining some of the principles in his encyclical letter on the environment, “Laudato Si’,” the pope said God created the world and everything in it not “so he could see himself reflected in it,” but in order to share it.

“Creation is a gift to be shared,” Pope Francis said. It is the place God gives humanity to exercise its creativity and to build a community of care and concern.

“We are invited not only to share in the work of creation and to cultivate it, but to make it grow and develop it,” he said. At the same time, “we are called to care for it, protect it and be its guardians.”

The balance is delicate and caution is urgent “because of the harm we have inflicted (on the earth) by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed it,” the pope said, quoting his encyclical.

“The earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor,” he said, still quoting.

As he insisted in the encyclical, Pope Francis told the educators and students that care for the environment is not an isolated moral issue. “There is a relationship between our life and that of mother earth, between the way we live and the gift we have received from God.”

Selfishness, consumerism, a desire for money and power, a lack of respect for God’s design for all of creation — human beings included — have a negative impact on people and on the environment, he said.

“Just as both can ‘deteriorate,’ we can also say that they can support one another and can be changed for the better.”

Pope Francis said people cannot ignore what is happening around them or pretend that it has no impact on them. Rather, he said, “it is urgent that we keep reflecting on and talking about our current situation” and take action.

Without action, the pope said, people are like the Old Testament Cain, who killed his brother Abel, and when God asked Cain where Abel was, he replied, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

“I wonder if our answer continues to be ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?'” the pope said.

“We have received this earth as an inheritance, a gift, in trust,” he said. “We would do well to ask ourselves: What kind of world do we want to leave behind? What meaning or direction do we want to give to our lives? Why have we been put here?”

Those questions should be part of the educational process, the pope said.

“How do we help our young people not to see a university degree as synonymous with higher status, money and social prestige?” he asked. “How can we help make their education a sign of greater responsibility in the face of today’s problems,” especially responding to “the needs of the poor, concern for the environment?”

The pope spoke at the university at the end of his second full day in Ecuador. After visiting a home for the aged and meeting with religious July 8, he was to fly to Bolivia, then onto Paraguay July 10, before leaving for the Vatican July 12.


Building unity in Church, society is key to evangelization, pope says 

By Cindy Wooden

Pope Francis arrives to celebrate Mass in Bicentennial Park in Quito, Ecuador, July 7. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

QUITO, Ecuador (CNS) — Catholics will never be effective evangelizers if they are squabbling among themselves, and they cannot show the world how faith in Christ responds to the human yearning for freedom and peace if they are divided, Pope Francis said.

The pope’s Mass July 7 at Quito’s Bicentennial Park was billed as a Mass for evangelization, but the pope insisted Christians would convince no one of the power of the Gospel if they could not demonstrate in their lives and behaviors that faith pushes a person beyond self-interest to concern for others.

Christians do not look at the world through rose-colored glasses, the pope said, but they can dream. Like Jesus, they see the world’s flaws, but also like Jesus, they love the world God created.

“It is precisely into this troubled world that Jesus sends us,” he said. “We must not pretend not to see or claim we do not have the needed resources or that the problems are too big.

“Instead we must respond by taking up the cry of Jesus and accepting the grace and challenge of being builders of unity,” he said.

To evangelize is to live as brothers and sisters with all people, he said. “This is the new revolution — for our faith is always revolutionary — this is our deepest and most enduring cry.”

Local church officials said more than 800,000 people gathered at the park, a former airport, for the Mass. Ecuador is the world’s third-largest exporter of cut flowers and roses are queen — a fact evident from the rose petals strewn along the pope’s path, the flower-petal carpets on the altar platform and the colorful arrangements that decorated even the walkway to the makeshift sacristy behind the stage.

The congregation gathered for the Mass was just as varied; members of different indigenous groups and visitors from other South American countries risked a forecast of rain to pray with each other and with the pope. Pope Francis wore a chasuble with an indigenous design, and the second reading at the Mass was in the Kichwa language.

Margarita Maria Jaramillo Escobar, 58, came with a group of 80 people from Medellin, Colombia, to pray with the pope.

“This is a pilgrimage for us,” said Jaramillo, a retired judge who has been blind since birth. “I came to hear the Holy Father’s message of love, peace and mercy.”

Those who gather around the altar and share Communion should be united with one another, setting aside worldly desires for power and petty squabbles in order to show the world the peace and unity that comes with faith in Christ, Pope Francis told them.

Evangelization is not beating down people’s doors, he said, but knocking gently and drawing near to “those who are far from God and the church, who feel themselves judged a priori by those who think they are pure and perfect.”

In his homily, reflecting on Jesus’ prayer at the Last Supper that his followers would be one so that the world would believe, Pope Francis said that while Jesus probably said the prayer in hushed tones, he likes to think of it “as more of a shout, a cry rising up from this Mass which we are celebrating in Bicentennial Park.”

“The desire for unity,” he said, “involves the delightful and comforting joy of evangelizing, the conviction that we have an immense treasure to share, one which grows stronger from being shared and becomes ever more sensitive to the needs of others.”

Because of sin, he said, unity takes real effort. It requires a commitment to explicitly trying to include everyone, to avoid selfishness, to promote dialogue and encourage collaboration.

Society needs people committed to unity, the pope said, and so does the Church.

“Jesus consecrates us so that we can encounter Him personally. And this encounter leads us, in turn, to encounter others, to become involved with the world and to develop a passion for evangelization,” he said.

“Communion, communication, self-giving and love” are the hallmarks of a Christian vocation, he said, and they are what makes it possible to take diversity and differences and turn them into a richness.

“What Jesus proposes is not just an idea,” the pope said. “It is concrete: ‘Go and do the same.'”

Unity is not “something we can fashion as we will, setting conditions, choosing who can belong and who cannot,” he said. “This ‘religiosity of the elite’ is not what Jesus proposes.” Recognizing God as one’s father means recognizing all his children as brothers and sisters, he said.

“This is not about having the same tastes, the same concerns, the same gifts,” Pope Francis said. “How beautiful it would be if all could admire how much we care for one another, how we encourage and help each other.”

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Contributing to this story was Barbara Fraser in Quito.

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