Pope Francis visits slum on final day of South America tour

Pope Francis visited a Paraguay slum on Sunday in a show of support for one of the nation`s poorest communities where residents are struggling for land rights.

AFP| Last Updated: Jul 13, 2015, 02:09 AM IST

Asuncion: Pope Francis visited a Paraguay slum on Sunday in a show of support for one of the nation`s poorest communities where residents are struggling for land rights.

The visit on the pope`s final day of his three-country South American tour underscores the theme of his trip, during which he has spoken out repeatedly against poverty, inequality and corruption.

The community of Banado Norte in the capital Asuncion is prone to flooding from a nearby river and many residents ended up there after being displaced by corporate agricultural land buys in other parts of the country.

While Paraguay, a nation of some seven million people, has seen rapid growth in recent years, 40 percent of the population remains mired in poverty.

Residents of Banado Norte are technically squatting on municipal land but want the right to stay. The pope appeared to directly address the issue.

"I couldn`t be with you without being on your land. Your land," he emphasized.

The pontiff stopped at several homes to visit with and bless families living there.

"I shuddered for a moment and got goose bumps and did not know what to say," said Carmen Sanchez, 50, who had prepared some traditional food.

Neighbor Silvia Sanchez told AFP: "I just hope that after this visit, the government will provide the assistance needed here."

Following his visit, Francis delivered mass at a nearby military base, where huge crowds had gathered in muddy fields to hear the pontiff speak on a stage decorated in bright, swirling patterns made from thousands of ears of corn.Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said about one million pilgrims had come to hear the mass, in which a solemn-sounding pope encouraged followers to pursue love, not selfishness.

"It is about turning from the path of selfishness, conflict, division and superiority, and taking instead the path of life, generosity and love," the pope said.

Among the worshipers were Cristina Kirchner, the president of Francis`s native Argentina, and Paraguay President Horacio Cartes.

The pope`s visit, his ninth trip abroad, has been notable for a number of historical pronouncements.

On Saturday, the 78-year-old pontiff decried the scourge of corruption as the "gangrene of a people." Paraguay is one of the poorest countries in South America and graft is rampant here, though the pope stressed the problem was worldwide.

He has also railed against ideologies, and on previous stops during his trip, first in Ecuador, and then Bolivia, Francis called for an end to poverty -- also endemic in the region -- and lamented today`s consumer society.

Wealth creation should not be "only for the benefit of a few," he said Saturday, and must be extended to "each citizen, without exclusion."

He urged political leaders not to "sacrifice human lives on the altar of money and profit."

Francis, in a historic gesture of reconciliation, sought forgiveness Thursday from Bolivia`s predominantly indigenous inhabitants for crimes committed centuries earlier in the name of the Catholic Church.

"There have been many very serious crimes committed against the native peoples of America in the name of God," the pontiff said.

Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay are predominantly Catholic and have been marked by a long history of poverty and inequality, especially afflicting indigenous populations.

Lombardi, the spokesman, said Francis was well at the end of his trip, but "tired like the rest of us."

Francis heads back to the Vatican later Sunday and will return to Latin America in September, when he travels to Cuba before heading to the United States.