LIMA, Peru — Pope Francis tackled politically charged issues during his weeklong visit to Chile and Peru, decrying human trafficking, environmental destruction, corruption and organized crime in speeches before audiences that included political leaders.
At the same time, he called for unity, dialogue and coexistence in each of the two countries, which have been marked by political tension and sometimes-violent conflicts. Invoking Mary, he called for compassion, which he also demonstrated as he blessed a Chilean prisoner's unborn baby and consoled people who lost their homes in devastating floods a year ago on Peru's northern coast.
He also acknowledged that the Church must address its own problems, including sexual abuse, corruption and internal divisions.
"The kingdom of heaven means finding in Jesus a God who gets involved with the lives of His people," he said.
In both countries, the pope met with indigenous people and youth, clearly with an eye toward the Synod of Bishops on youth, scheduled for October at the Vatican, and the synod for the Amazon in 2019. He repeatedly referred to the importance of the earth, calling it "our common home," as he did in the encyclical "Laudato Si'."
"The defense of the earth has no other purpose than the defense of life," he said.
The trip was the pope's fourth to South America. It came at a time when politics in the region are increasingly polarized and political and economic problems have prompted many people, particularly from Haiti, Venezuela and Colombia, to seek better opportunities in other countries, where they often face discrimination.
The pope stressed the inextricable bonds between humans and the environment, telling leaders in Chile that "a people that turns its back on the land, and everything and everyone on it, will never experience real development."
Both countries have seen violent clashes in recent years over large-scale development projects in indigenous territories. (See related story, page 29.)
At every stop along his route, the pope was greeted by enthusiastic young people, many of whom were volunteers helping with organization and logistics.
In Chile, he urged them to make everyday decisions about their actions by asking, "What would Christ do?"
He also encouraged them to continue their education and work for a better future for their countries, while pointing to the need for improved schooling and job opportunities. Education, he said, should be "transformative" and "inclusive," fostering coexistence.
He urged Peru's bishops to follow the missionary St. Turibius' example of being close to the people, learning the local language and culture, being a pastor to his priests and encouraging unity.
"Dear brothers, work for unity," Pope Francis told the bishops. "Do not remain prisoners of divisions that create cliques and hamper our vocation to be a sacrament of communion."
"Charity must always be accompanied by justice," he said. "There can be no authentic evangelization that does not point out and denounce every sin against the lives of our brothers and sisters, especially those who are most vulnerable."
Speaking with bishops, he addressed problems that included sexual abuse and divisions within the Church.
In Chile, Pope Francis met privately on Jan. 16 with sex abuse survivors. He drew public criticism, however, for his defense of Bishop Juan Barros of Osorno, who has been accused of covering up sex abuse by his former mentor, Father Fernando Karadima. The Vatican sentenced Father Karadima to a life of prayer and penance after he was found guilty of sexually abusing boys.
His remarks provoked outrage, especially from Father Karadima's victims who said the pope's response made his earlier apologies for the Church's failure to protect sex abuse victims seem hollow.
Speaking with journalists on his flight to Rome from Lima, Peru, Jan. 21, the pope said he only realized later that his words erroneously implied that victims' accusations are credible only with concrete proof.
"To hear that the pope says to their face, 'Bring me a letter with proof,' is a slap in the face," the pope said.
Asked about the incident during the flight back to Rome, Pope Francis said he meant to use the word "evidence," not "proof." The way he phrased his response, he said, caused confusion and was "not the best word to use to approach a wounded heart."
"Of course, I know that there are many abused people who cannot bring proof (or) they don't have it," he said. "Or at times they have it but they are ashamed and cover it up and suffer in silence. The tragedy of the abused is tremendous."
At Lima Mass attended by 1.3 million, Pope Francis preaches message of hope
LIMA, Peru — Pope Francis took his message of hope to this sprawling, dusty capital of Peru, celebrating Mass within view of the rocky, waterless Andean slopes where most of the city's poorest residents live.
The day's Scripture readings, in which Jonah was sent to Nineveh and Jesus set out toward Galilee, "reveal a God who turns His gaze toward cities, past and present," the pope said in his homily.
Crowds lined the pope's route to the Las Palmas military base, where thousands of people arrived during the night and throughout the morning to participate in the Mass.
Lima's heat and blazing sun did not wither the spirits of the estimated 1.3 million attendees, who chanted and sang as they waited for Mass to begin.
Mariana Costa of Lima felt fortunate. She had missed a chance to see Pope Francis in Poland, she said, "and now I have the opportunity to see him in my own country."
As a young adult, she was touched by his words to youth. "Ultimately, we're the ones who have to work to make sure this faith is not lost," she said.
Church in Peru must resist division
LIMA, Peru — Speaking to Peru's contemplative nuns and to the nation's bishops, Pope Francis said that while tensions and differences are inevitable, the Church must be ready to deal with them "in a spirit of unity, honesty and sincere dialogue."
"Do not remain prisoners of divisions that create cliques and hamper our vocation to be a sacrament of communion," he told the bishops. "Remember: What was attractive about the early Church was how they loved one another. That was — and is and always will be — the best way to evangelize."
The pope began Jan. 21 by joining contemplative nuns in praying mid-morning prayer at the Shrine of the Lord of the Miracles in Lima.
Devotion to the Lord of the Miracles dates to the mid-1600s, when an African slave painted a crucifixion scene on a wall in Lima. According to tradition, the archbishop sent workers to destroy, erase or paint over the image, but each effort was miraculously frustrated.
In 1687, a violent earthquake leveled the city but left the wall with the image unscathed. The devotion received official approval, and for centuries, a replica of the original image has been carried in procession every year.
Poor, environment plagued by 'social virus' of corruption
LIMA, Peru — Governments, private entities and Church communities have an obligation to be transparent to protect their people and land from the scourge of corruption, Pope Francis said.
Addressing Peruvian government authorities and members of the country's diplomatic corps Jan. 19, the pope said corruption is an often "subtle form of environmental degradation that increasingly contaminates the whole system of life."
"How much evil is done to our Latin American people and the democracies of this continent by this social 'virus,' a phenomenon that infects everything, with the greatest harm being done to the poor and mother earth," the pope said.
Peru's historical treasure, he added, also lies in its holiness, producing numerous saints who have "blazed paths of faith for the entire American continent."
— Catholic News Service