ASUNCION, Paraguay (AP) — Here are the latest developments from Pope Francis’ trip to South America:
A leading Paraguayan gay rights activist was in the crowd at the Catholic Church’s invitation when Pope Francis met with “civil society” in an Asuncion stadium.
His husband called it a huge gesture of tolerance.
Simon Cazal, the executive director of SomosGay, was invited by Paraguay’s bishops’ conference. Cazal is legally married to an Argentine, Sergio Lopez, though their union isn’t recognized in Paraguay.
Lopez told The Associated Press that Paraguay’s church had made history with the invitation, calling it “a baby step” but also a “huge (gesture) of tolerance for our organization.”
Pope Francis opposes gay marriage in line with church teaching, which says marriage is a union between a man and a woman. As archbishop of Buenos Aires, he tried unsuccessfully to prevent Argentina from becoming the first country in Latin America to legalize gay marriage.
However, as pope he has also showed great openness to gays, advocating a church that ministers to everyone without judgment.
Pope Francis is balancing out his apology for the crimes the Catholic Church committed against indigenous during the colonial-era conquest of the Americas with high praise for the Jesuit missions in Paraguay that brought Christianity, European-style education and economic organization to the Guarani Indians.
Francis praised the Jesuit “reductions,” as the missions were known, as an almost utopian social and economic experiment — one that was immortalized in the 1986 film, “The Mission.” He said they were “one of the most important experiences of evangelization and social organization in history.”
He said in a speech to indigenous groups, unions and political figures in Paraguay: “There the Gospel was the soul and the life of communities which did not know hunger, unemployment, illiteracy or oppression. This historical experience shows us that, today too, a more humane society is possible.”
Pope Francis has used a long-scheduled lunch break to make an impromptu and moving stop at a religious clinic for the terminally ill poor.
The Italian Rev. Aldo Trentto is director of the Fundacion San Rafael clinic. He fought back tears as he recounted how emotional the visit was for patients. He said Francis at one point leaned over to kiss a terminally ill patient who was too weak to sit up.
The clinic is less than three miles from the Vatican embassy where Francis is staying and houses 100 patients.
Pope Francis has made a symbolic nod to Paraguay’s main indigenous people by leading worshippers in reciting “The Lord’s Prayer” in their Guarani language during a Mass celebrated at the Shrine of the Virgin of Caacupe.
The Jesuit order to which Francis belongs had a long history of protecting the Guarani from servitude and what some call “cultural genocide” during colonial times and helped to preserve their language.
A Jesuit priest, Antonio Ruiz de Montoya, published the first Guarani grammar in 1639. A leading Paraguay linguist, Miguel Angel Veron, says a friar wrote a Guarani-language catechism in 1588.
Guarani are currently spread among eight countries including Argentina, Bolivia and Brazil.
In Paraguay, they are disproportionately poor, having been forced off their traditional lands by ranchers. Their numbers are disputed. In 2002, the national census put the Guarani population at 89,000. The government now says there are 30,000
Pope Francis has given the world its newest basilica: At the end of his Mass Saturday at the Sanctuary of the Virgin of Caacupe, Paraguay’s most important pilgrimage site, officials read aloud a Vatican decree declaring the site a minor basilica.
The elevated status shows Caacupe’s particular link to the Catholic Church and its pope.
Francis has long had a soft spot for the Caacupe icon of the Madonna, stemming from his days ministering to Paraguayan immigrants in the slums of Buenos Aires.
The 1989 Vatican document that outlines how basilicas are designated says the sites must enjoy a certain renown in the diocese, “stand out as a center of active and pastoral liturgy” that others can look to as a model, and must have historical value or importance. Once designated, a basilica must celebrate certain liturgical feasts and can use the papal symbol of the “crossed keys” on banners and furnishings in a sign of its connection to Rome.
There are four major basilicas in Rome, and over 1,600 minor basilicas in the rest of the world.
The Mass being celebrated at Paraguay’s shrine to the Virgin of Caacupe has featured several readings in the native Guarani language, including the story of Adam and Eve from Genesis.
Guarani is an official language in Paraguay, alongside Spanish, and is unique among indigenous languages in the Americas in that it is the only native tongue whose speakers include a large proportion of non-indigenous people. In other words, it didn’t just survive after colonization, but thrived.
The Jesuit priest Xavier Albo, a Bolivia-based anthropologist, says it is indicative of the discrimination native Guarani continue to face in Paraguay that so many Paraguayans speak a Guarani dialect yet would take offense at being called indigenous.
The Guarani extend from Paraguay north to Brazil and are among native South American peoples who have most been subjected to servitude by ranchers and plantation owners.
Paraguay’s 6.6 million people include 110,000 indigenous people, by official count, divided among 20 ethnicities. They are disproportionately poor, having been marginalized by deforestation to clear land for ranching and soy production.
Pope Francis is praising Paraguay’s women as the “most glorious women of America” because of how they helped rebuild the country after a devastating regional war in the 1860s that wiped out more than half the population, most of it male.
Francis dedicated his homily Saturday at the Virgin of Caacupe shrine to Mary, mother of Jesus, and all the wives and mothers of Paraguay “who at great cost and sacrifice were able to lift up a country defeated, devastated and laid low by war.”
As an archbishop in Argentina and as pope, Francis frequently has praised the strength of Paraguay’s women, saying they should be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their fortitude and faith.
Interrupted by applause, he said Saturday: “You are keepers of the memory, the lifeblood of those who rebuilt the life, faith and dignity of your people.” He added: “Then and now, you found the strength not to let this land lose its bearings. God bless your perseverance. God bless and encourage your faith. God bless the women of Paraguay, the most glorious women of America.”
Among the Argentines who came to Paraguay to see their fellow countryman Pope Francis was 50-year-old Jose Demetrio Barrionuevo. The pharmaceutical salesman traveled with his wife and four children from Tucuman, Argentina.
Barrionuevo said pride over Pope Francis is not just a matter of sharing a common homeland. He said: “We are also proud of his humility — that he prefers to be with the poor and not the rich.”
Barrionuevo said the family also planned to attend Sunday’s Mass at the Nu Guazu, a field inside a military base where John Paul II canonized St. Roque Gonzalez in 1988.
Gonzalez was a Jesuit missionary to the native Guarani in the 16th and 17th centuries in what would become Paraguay.
Pope Francis has arrived at the Shrine of the Virgin of Caacupe, where he stood in silent prayer before a statue of the virgin, an icon of the Madonna that is very close to his heart.
After a moment of prayer, he approached the base of the statue, placed his hand on it, and left a white rose to the applause of the few people gathered in the basilica.
Caacupe is the most important pilgrimage site in Paraguay. Tens of thousands of people, including Francis’ Argentine countrymen, have packed the plaza outside the basilica for his first Mass in Paraguay.
Standing on the corner of the plaza of the shrine of the Virgin of Caacupe was Santa Cristina Rodriguez.
The woman said she survives by recycling plastic and doing other odd jobs. Rodriguez said through a smile that showed only a few teeth: “The pope loves the poor and I am very poor”
She said Paraguayans are hard-working, but there are no jobs.
There are believers who credit the Virgin of Caacupe with miracles. Carmen Mesa is one. She was among the Argentines who arrived on foot from Clorinda, Argentina, just across the Paraguay River.
Mesa said she prayed to the virgin when her 13-year-old granddaughter was hospitalized with a gastric infection. Said Mesa: “By the grace of God, she survived and is now a healthy young girl.”
Pope Francis is receiving a very Argentine welcome at Paraguay’s shrine of the Virgin of Caacupe.
Thousands of Argentines have traveled north for to be with the Argentina-born pope for his first big event in Paraguay: a Mass at the shrine that is the country’s most important pilgrimage site and a place close to Francis’ heart.
When he was archbishop of Buenos Aires, the former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio often visited a slum that is home to many Paraguayan immigrants, joining them in their religious processions and celebrating baptisms at their church, Our Lady of Miracles of Caacupe.
Argentina’s blue and white national colors were ubiquitous at Caacupe on Saturday. One featured the mantra “Estamos Haciendo Lio” (We’re making a mess”) emblazoned on it. It’s a reference to a call Francis made during a 2013 trip to Brazil in which he urged young Argentines to shake things up in their dioceses.
Pope Francis is taking his recycling mantra to a new level by traveling around Paraguay’s capital in the same white Peugeot that St. John Paul II used when he visited in 1988.
The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, quipped: “It seems to still work.”
Paraguayans erupted in cheers Saturday outside the Acosta Nu pediatric hospital when Francis’ unusual motorcade pulled up for his first event of the day.
Francis long has insisted on traveling in compact cars rather than fancy limousines or armored popemobiles, part of his simple style and insistence that priests aren’t princes but servants.
He uses a Ford Focus to get around the Vatican, and he endeared himself in South Korea when he zipped around town in a Kia.
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