ASUNCION, Paraguay (AP) — Here are the latest developments from Pope Francis’ trip to South America:
Some Paraguayans are complaining that the driver of the popemobile had a heavy foot.
Comments are circulating on social media that the popemobile went too fast, leaving Paraguayans who had waited for hours on Asuncion streets to see Pope Francis only a fleeting glimpse of the pontiff as he sped by.
The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said the vehicle traveled at that speed because they did not want a repeat of the delays seen in Ecuador and Bolivia, and that the Asuncion’s airport was a greater distance from the presidential palace than in other cities.
Pope Francis has received from Paraguayan President Horacio Cartes a national soccer team jersey with the name “Papa Francisco” and a white wool manta woven in the region where Jesuit missionaries worked in the South American country during the colonial era.
“Gifts without problems,” said Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi with a smile.
Lombardi’s comment was a joking reference to the “Communist crucifix,” with a carved hammer and sickle, the pope received from Bolivian President Evo Morales. That gift clearly surprised the pope and led to raised eyebrows, though Bolivian officials denied the gift was a political maneuver. It had been designed by a Jesuit activist.
In his opening remarks in Paraguay, Pope Francis is giving special praise to Paraguayan women.
Francis met with President Horacio Cartes in the presidential palace and expressed his “profound admiration for the role played by the women of Paraguay in those dramatic historical moments. As mothers, wives and widows, they shouldered the heaviest burdens.”
Francis is referring to a war in the 1860s against Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay. During the War of the Triple Alliance, an estimated 60 percent of the country’s population was wiped out. Those losses included the vast majority of men, who had gone off to fight, leaving women to move Paraguay forward.
When he was archbishop of Buenos Aires, the Rev. Jorge Bergoglio, as he was known then, often spoke about his admiration for Paraguayan women.
A lot of tears flowed among the inmates at the Buen Pastor women’s prison where Pope Francis made a brief stop to hear its choir.
The 50 women who serenaded the pope with a specially prepared song broke into tears when the people blessed them.
The women inmates stuck inside, however, cried for a different reason — out of frustration. Prison director Ana Coronel told The Associated Press that they had hoped the pope would enter the former convent and visit with them.
She said she told them afterward that the archbishop’s office had never responded to her request that the pope go inside.
Pope Francis’ apology for the “grave sins” the Catholic Church committed against indigenous peoples in the Americas during the European conquest has been well-received by many native peoples across the continent.
But for Mayan activist Andrea Ixchiu in Guatemala it is pure marketing for the church, coming so many years after the fact. She thinks it’s meant to prevent Catholics from leaving the faith in favor of Protestant evangelical sects.
Ixchiu says the church should return to native peoples land it took from them.
The crowd walking back to Asuncion’s center from the airport is in high spirits after seeing the pope, singing and chanting “Long live the pope.” Many people said they hoped Francis’ visit would help improve life for the marginalized.
Vivian Nunez, a 26-year-old psychologist, said she was very moved and hopes for big changes. “Maybe there won’t be political change, but human change, in each person.”
Housewife Eladia Olmedo said the pope has already changed Paraguay: “They fixed the streets, they cleaned things up. They beautified the city.”
Pope Francis is making a brief stop at the Buen Pastor women’s prison in Paraguay, listening to a prison choir sing a song specially prepared for him.
The visit isn’t on the pope’s official itinerary and the choir is serenading the pope outside the facility. The prison houses 500 female inmates, many of whom are detained on drug charges.
Francis plans to rest briefly after the visit then head to the presidential palace to meet with President Horacio Cartes.
Pope Francis is getting a show on the tarmac of the airport in Asuncion, Paraguay.
Upon getting off the plane, Francis sat down next to President Horacio Cartes. The two listened to a girls’ choir that sang in Spanish, along with indigenous languages Guarani and Ache. A group of dancers also entertained the pope, who looked on with smiles.
When he stood up, several young girls ran up and hugged him. He received them with open arms and then gave them blessings.
Pope Francis is now in Paraguay, where he’s set to spend three days for the last stop of his South America tour.
Paraguay’s government has declared Friday and Saturday national holidays in honor of the pope’s visit.
While in Paraguay, he will celebrate two Masses, including one in Caacupe, the center of Paraguayan spirituality. He’ll also meet with President Horacio Cartes on Friday and with hundreds of local groups on Saturday.
Bolivian President Evo Morales is settling the question of whether the 78-year-old Francis chewed coca leaves during the visit to cope with the altitude during his four-hour stop in Bolivia’s capital, which has an altitude of 13,100 feet.
The leaf is the raw material for cocaine and Morales has been trying to get it off the international list of controlled narcotics because it is also widely chewed in the Andes as a mild stimulant.
Morales said in a Friday interview with The Associated Press that he gave the pope a wallet with coca leaves, but he apparently didn’t use them.
But he says the pope did drink two cups of coca tea at the government palace.
Evo Morales says he feels like he’s got a good friend and ally in his battle for revolutionary social change and halting global warming: Pope Francis.
Bolivia’s president says he thinks that what Pope Francis preaches amounts to socialism — though the pope himself insists he’s not preaching any political doctrine.
In an interview Friday with The Associated Press, Morales referred to the pope as “the first and best politician in the world.”
Francis has said several times that concern for the poor and marginalized is at the center of the Gospel, but has said Marxism is wrong.
Hours before Pope Francis is set to arrive, tens of thousands of people are lined up along an 8-mile (13-kilometer) stretch of road coming from the airport to downtown Asuncion. The pope is set to spend three days there for the last stop of his South America tour.
The Paraguay government declared Friday and Saturday national holidays in honor of the pope’s visit. While in Paraguay, he will celebrate two Masses, including one in Caacupe, the center of Paraguayan spirituality. He’ll also meet with President Horacio Cartes on Friday and with hundreds of local groups on Saturday.
The Paraguay field where Pope Francis will celebrate the final Mass of his South American tour is cursed with serpents.
At least that’s the warning from Paraguay’s health ministry.
The Pope is due to celebrate Mass Sunday at the Nu Guasu site in a subtropical forest in Paraguay.
Health Minister Antonio Barrios says the area is a natural habitat for the reptiles. He says authorities have antivenom, but says the faithful should wear boots in any case.
Pope John Paul II celebrated a mass in this same place in 1988 under torrential rains.
Bolivian police say they have detained three Chileans who wanted to deliver a letter to Pope Francis. The men are protesting the Pope’s ordainment of a bishop in southern Chile who is accused of covering up for a pedophile priest.
Police held the three men for more than 14 hours in the city of Santa Cruz. The men say they missed a chance to ask Francis to reconsider naming the Rev. Juan Barros as bishop in the city of Osorno.
Barros is accused of covering up the sex abuse by crimes of the Rev. Fernando Karadima, whom the Vatican has sanctioned for abusing young boys.
The Pope’s appointment of Barros has led to an unprecedented outcry by abuse victims and Catholic faithful in Chile.
A Vatican investigation found Karadima guilty in 2011 and sentenced the now 84-year-old priest to a cloistered life of “penitence and prayer.” It remains Chile’s highest-profile case of abuse by a priest.
Pope Francis is urging inmates at Bolivia’s notoriously violent Palmasola prison to not despair, leaving them with a message of hope and solidarity,
In his comments, Francis acknowledged the wretched conditions that the inmates face: overcrowding, the slow pace of justice, violence and few opportunities for education or rehabilitation. He said those need to be addressed by Bolivian institutions.
But he urged the inmates not to despair and to not let their suffering lead to violence.
Three inmates are telling tell Pope Francis of the desperation inside Bolivia’s most notorious prison and a corrupt and inept judiciary that sends many innocents to Palmasola Prison.
One inmate told of witnessing the murder of a fellow inmate. Another described his surprise on arriving at finding “so many people sleeping on the floor like animals.” The prison built for 800 inmates has more than 5,000.
A female inmate described what she called judicial terrorism: Those who can’t buy justice are condemned to suffer. She said Bolivia’s criminal justice system is based on lies, deceit and abuse of power.
The inmates pleaded with the pope to help and said little had improved since 36 people were killed in an August 2013 fight between rival gangs inside the penitentiary.
One asked for “dignified nutrition” for starters. He said the prison spent less than a dollar a day on each inmate’s food.
Pope Francis has arrived at Bolivia’s notorious Palmasola prison, greeting some by hand ahead of a message that is expected to focus on encouragement.
Crowds of people packed a central square of the prison complex, waving yellow and white balloons, the colors of the Holy See.
Palmasola is the most notorious of Bolivia’s 32 prisons, built to detain some 800 people but housing 5,000, more than four in five still awaiting trial. Two years ago, 36 people died in a fierce battle between rival gangs.
Francis has frequently spoken out about the plight of prisoners, denouncing the widespread abuse of pre-trial detention and calling life sentences a “hidden death penalty.”
Pope Francis has offered up to the Madonna the two medals of honor that Bolivian President Evo Morales gave him upon his arrival.
The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said Francis made the offering Friday morning after celebrating Mass. Francis generally doesn’t accept honorary medallions or awards, and Morales’ gifts came as a surprise to the Vatican.
One of the medals was named for the Rev. Luis Espinal, the Jesuit activist slain by Bolivian paramilitaries in 1980. It featured the crucifix on a hammer and sickle, the same symbol used in a real-life “Communist crucifix” that Morales gave to the pope at the same ceremony.
The Vatican didn’t say what Francis was doing with the crucifix.
The pope is visiting a prison outside Santa Cruz, Bolivia, this morning.