Poor, hungry, cannot be ignored, pope says in Bolivia

Poor, hungry, cannot be ignored, pope says in Bolivia
Pope Francis celebrates a Mass at the Cristo Redentor square in Santa Cruz, Bolivia on July 9
PHOTO: Reuters

SANTA CRUZ, Bolivia - Pope Francis, at a Mass for hundreds of thousands of people in Bolivia, said on Thursday that everyone had a moral duty to help the poor, and that those with means could not wish they would just "go away." The 78-year-old pontiff, on the fifth day of his three-nation tour of South America, is showing a few signs of fatigue but generally appears to be holding up well despite the changes in altitude and temperature.

On Wednesday he went from the oxygen-poor air of La Paz, which is more than 3,650 meters (11,975 feet) above sea level, to Santa Cruz, Bolivia's largest and fastest-growing city, which is at 416 meters (1,365 feet).

In one telling sign of the city's development, the store that was used to for the pope to change into his vestments at the mass site had the insignia of the Burger King fast food chain above its door. The glass was covered with white curtains for the occasion.

Santa Cruz has fewer indigenous people than other parts of Bolivia. It's 2.6 million people are mostly of European descent and are wealthier than those in most areas of the country, one of the poorest in the Americas.

In his homily, Francis urged his listeners to beware an attitude of resignation before the great challenges facing society because "it disorients us, it closes our heart to others, especially to the poor." "Faced with so many kinds of hunger in our world, we can say to ourselves: 'Things don't add up; we will never manage, there is nothing to be done.' And so our hearts yield to despair," he said.

He used the biblical story of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes, when Jesus' apostles wanted him to send crowds away because there would be no way to feed all of them.

The bible story says Jesus multiplied the food but some modern biblical scholars believe the real miracle was that he convinced everyone to share what they had.

Francis said the story had "particular resonance" in today's world, and told his audience: "No one needs to go away, no one needs to be discarded; you yourselves, give them something to eat. Jesus speaks these words to us, here in this square." On Thursday night, the pope was scheduled to make a major address to the second world meeting of popular movements, an international body that brings together organisations of people on the margins of society, including the poor, the unemployed and peasants who have lost their land.

On the first leg of his tour, in Ecuador, the pope on Tuesday appealed to the world not to turn its back on the"reality" of environmental decay and its effects on the poor.

Francis arrived in Bolivia on Wednesday and praised Bolivia's social reforms to spread wealth under leftist President Evo Morales. On Friday, he will walk into Bolivia's notoriously violent Palmasola prison.

Morales' strained relations with the Catholic Church have begun thawing under the Argentine-born pontiff's papacy. Morales warmly embraced the pope seven years after denouncing the Church as "an instrument of domination".

The pope looked bemused when Morales handed him one of the more unusual gifts he has received: a wooden hammer and sickle - the symbol of communism - with a figure of a crucified Christ resting on the hammer.

The pope leaves on Friday for Paraguay, the last stop on his"homecoming" trip.

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