Among the enduring images of Pope Francis’ first hours in Bolivia are the enthusiastic, crowded welcome he received, and the moment he took to remember Fr Espinal, a Jesuit missionary assassinated during the last brutal regime. Just like the three days the Pope spent in Ecuador, which concluded at the Marian Shrine of El Quinche, and in the clear light of a chilly sunset in El Alto, as well as in La Paz and in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, thousands of people lined the streets, eagerly waiting for a chance to greet the Pope with deep affection.
It was precisely along the crowded route from the highest airport in the world to the capital that the Pope stopped to remember and pray at the place where the tortured body of Luis Espinal was found in 1980. He was “one of our brothers, a victim of those determined to end his fight for Bolivia’s freedom,” the visibly moved Pope said. Then, before reciting an Our Father with the people, he added, “Fr Espinal preached the Gospel, and that Gospel bothered some, and that is why they got rid of him.”
Just prior to this, it was the president of the country, Evo Morales — who later received Bergoglio at the presidential palace in La Paz and in Santa Cruz de la Sierra — who welcomed his guest in a land of unique beauty and cultural variety, both of which the Pope referred to at the beginning of his speech. In the land and people of Bolivia, “the proclamation of the Gospel took deep root, and through the years it has continued to shed its light upon society, contributing to the development of the nation and shaping its culture,” Pope Francis said, expressing his desire that all citizens collaborate in building up a more just and stable society.
A shared commitment to the good of all society was the central message of the Pope’s speech to civic leaders in the cathedral of La Paz, with, among others, President Morales seated in the front row. “Let me cooperate with you,” he pleaded, outlining the need for an integral ecology that places the natural environment in strict relation with the social, political, and economic, since all are closely connected to one another. This is indeed the ecology of mother earth, a human ecology and social ecology as described with great breadth and clarity in the latest encyclical which has been accepted with unprecedented enthusiasm throughout the world, not only by Catholics and believers.
In building up society, freedom is the best environment to guarantee everyone the possibility to make a distinctive contribution. And in society, Christians must only serve the light of the Gospel, as Pope Francis made clear. “Faith is a light which does not blind; ideologies blind, the faith does not blind; it is a light which does not confuse, but which illuminates and respectfully guides the consciences and history of every person and society”, Bergoglio said, emphasizing that Christianity has played an important role in forming the people of Bolivia, and asserting that faith can be reduced neither to a purely subjective element nor a subculture.
And once more, the Pope’s voice rang out clearly in favour of the family, now bombarded by threats on all sides, all the while remaining the irreplaceable cornerstone of society. Many social problems are resolved quietly the family, they are innumerable, Pope Francis observed; to fail to promote the family is to leave the most vulnerable unprotected.
St. Peter’s Square
Feb. 15, 2019
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