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Five years since pope's trip to Bolivia, between Evo and the people


July 2020 marks five years since the pope's visit to Bolivia, Latin America's poorest country.

Pope Francis landed at one of the most curious airports in the world. It's that of “El Alto,” and is at an altitude of 13,300 feet.

He was greeted there by Evo Morales, who gifted him a chuspa, a bag typically used by indigenous people to store coca leaves.

The then-president didn't beat around the bush.

EVO MORALES
“You have come to a land of peace that seeks justice. Welcome to a part of the great nation which has lost its right of access to the sea through an invasion.”

The pope also made it clear that the intent of his visit was not political. He also asked for institutional transparency.

POPE FRANCIS
As a guest and a pilgrim, I have come to confirm the faith of those who believe in the Risen Christ. In addition to institutional transparency, social unity requires efforts to promote the education of citizens.

On his way to the capital, the pope stopped the popemobile at the place where the lifeless body of Spanish Jesuit Luis Espinal was found. He was murdered by paramilitaries in March, 1980.

At his residence, Evo Morales also threw the pope for a loop during the gift exchange. He first decorated the pope without warning, something Vatican protocol asks to avoid and that disconcerted the pope.

Then, he gifted Pope Francis a crucifix connected to a hammer and sickle.

That same day, Pope Francis moved to Santa Cruz, where the following morning he celebrated a widely attended Mass.

POPE FRANCIS
Jesus never detracts from the dignity of anyone, no matter how little they possess or seem capable of contributing.

In this city, he met with representatives of popular movements to discuss social issues like shortages of work, land and homes.

POPE FRANCIS
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 instead of serving. That economy kills. That economy excludes. That economy destroys Mother Earth.

The most moving moment of the trip was his visit to the prison in Palmasola, the largest in the country and one of the most violent in the world.

The prison holds more than 2,800 inmates and houses a number of their families.

“To begin, I want to ask for forgiveness to all the people I've hurt.”

POPE FRANCIS
Do not be afraid to help each other. The devil is looking for rivalry, division, gangs. Keep fighting to move forward.

The pope was moved by these two girls who accompanied him throughout his address.

Pope Francis said goodbye to Bolivia at the Viru Viru airport in Santa Cruz.

Evo Morales accompanied him all the way to the plane, where he gave him another gift, this one apparently less controversial.

Javier Martínez-Brocal

Translation: CT