July 2015: Pope Francis sweeps through South America

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In July, the Pope made an unforgettable journey through Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay. As he exited the plane in Quito, he was welcomed by a choir of children with hearing disabilities.

President of Ecuador
'In fact, the Pope is Argentinian, God may be Brazilian, but without a doubt, paradise is Ecuador. Welcome Your Holiness.�

His first Mass of the trip was held in the park of Guayaquil. Hundreds of thousands of people from Ecuador were present, in addition to citizens of Peru, Argentina, Colombia and even Puerto Rico.

'The family is the nearest hospital, when one is sick, they are caregivers who help as they can. The family is the first school for the young, the essential point of reference for young people, the best home for the elderly. The family constitutes the best 'social capital.' It cannot be replaced by other institutions. It needs to be helped and strengthened.�

For his last stop in Ecuador, Pope Francis had an endearing and urgent encounter with religious at the Shrine of Our Lady of El Quinche.

'Not that I have my time. I have my things. I have this, no. Now, I close the office. I would have gone to bless houses but I'm tired today, so I watch a nice soap opera on television for the nuns. Service. Serve, serve, and don't do anything else.â? 

The Pope also flew to Bolivia, and when he arrived at the airport of El Alto, at 4,000 meters, he was greeted by tens of thousands of natives.

Later, in his official meeting with Evo Morales, the president gave him this curious crucifix, a gift that was talked about frequently.

The Pope clarified that it was considered a work of protest, and was designed in 1981, before the Holy See had condemned the Marxist interpretation of theology.

In Bolivia, the Pope met with representatives of popular movements around the world to discuss solutions to problems such as unemployment, climate and housing. Pope Francis denounced the new forms of colonialism in which entire peoples merely become suppliers of raw materials and never experience growth. 

'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 serves.�

The most emotional stop was at the Palmasola prison, one of the most dangerous in the world. Inside, there are more than 2,800 prisoners and some families.

'To begin, I want to ask for forgiveness to all the people I've hurt. To my family who, since my sentence two years ago, have stood by me and have had to work hard to ask for loans to pay a lawyer, who ended up taking advantage of them and other clients.�

'Do not be afraid to help each other. The devil is looking for rivalry, division, gangs. Keep working towards progress.�

The Pope was moved when one of the two girls sitting on the stage came up to him and gave him a hug. From Bolivia he left for Paraguay, where the music never stopped as the Pope left the plane.

Pope Francis then visited el Bañado Norte, a poor area on the outskirts of Asuncion. The Pope walked between the houses and stopped to talk to the elderly.

'A faith which does not draw us into solidarity is a faith which is dead or a lie. 'I am very Catholic. I am very Catholic. I go to Church every Sunday.' But tell me, mister, madame, what happens in Bañado Norte? 'Oh, I don't know. I know that there are people there, but I don't know.' More than going to Mass on Sundays, if you do not have a heart of solidarity, if you know not know what happens to your people, your faith is weak or it is sick or it is dead. It is a faith without Christ. Faith without solidarity is a faith without Christ, a faith without God, a faith without fraternity.â?

The last Mass of the trip was under this great altarpiece made of vegetables in front of hundreds of thousands of pilgrims. He told them to adopt a welcoming mentality.

'Today the Lord says to us quite clearly: in the mentality of the Gospel, you do not convince people with arguments, strategies or tactics. You convince them by learning how to welcome them.�

It was the longest and most intense journey he has made in his pontificate. But he returned to Rome in great shape and still had a great sense of humor.

'We've seen your energy these past few days and in the last two and a half years. What's your secret?�

'Do you mean, what's my drug? That's what you really want to know. The drug! Mate tea helps me, but I didn't try any coca leaf tea. I want to make that very clear!�

While the Pope was in South America, Pope Benedict XVI received two honorary doctorates in Rome. Since his resignation, he has remained in the background. But this time he received plenty of attention.

Personal secretary to John Paul II
'Thank your Holiness, for your great pontifical service. For your vast doctrinal heritage and for the benevolence you've always showed.�

'Without John Paul II, my spiritual and theological journey would be unimaginable.â? 

The Pope ended July with one of the biggest events in 2016. With the help of a tablet, he was registered as the first pilgrim at World Youth Day in Krakow.

'Done. I've signed up for World Youth Day as a pilgrim using this electronic device.â? 

Immediately, the web flooded with thousands of registrations. And in a few hours there were more than 45,000 other people registered.


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