Pope Francis has a packed schedule in his first papal visit to Spanish-speaking Latin America, writes Greg Daly
Pope Francis’ first full day back in his native South America since Brazil’s World Youth Day in 2013 could hardly have been more packed.
Having arrived in Ecuador’s capital city Quito on Sunday, after a 12-hour flight during which he sent messages of peace to the Columbian and Venezuelan heads of state as he flew through their airspace, Monday saw the Pope flying to Ecuador’s largest city, the port of Guayaquil, where he visited the national shrine of Divine Mercy and celebrated Mass before a crowd of up to a million at the Parque de los Samanes de Guayaquil.
The 17-minute homily centred on the story of the Wedding at Cana, which he said “is repeated in every generation, in every family, in every one of us and our efforts to let our hearts find rest in strong, fruitful and joyful love”.
Calling on those present to make room for Mary and to journey with her to Cana, he highlighted how throughout the feast Mary was “attentive” to the concerns of others, “not closed in on herself, worried only about her little world”.
This attentiveness – this outgoing maternal love – he said, caused her to see that the wine had run out, to decide what needed to be done, and to act first by approaching Jesus with confidence to tell him of the newlyweds’ problem and then by directing the attendants to do whatever Jesus told them.
By doing this, Pope Francis said, Mary had prayed and had placed the problem in God’s hands, hastening Jesus’ hour through her concern to meet the needs of others. “Praying,” the Pope said, “always lifts us out of our worries and concerns,” making us rise above everything that hurts, upsets or disappoints us and putting us in the place of others. “The family,” he added, “is a school where prayer also reminds us that we are not isolated individuals; we are one and we have a neighbour close at hand: he or she is living under the same roof, is a part of our life, and is in need.”
Describing service as “the sign of true love”, the Pontiff said that we learn this especially in the family, which he described as “the nearest hospital, the first school for the young, the best home for the elderly” and a “domestic Church” in which God’s tenderness and mercy can be imbibed along with the Faith.
Under no illusions about the realities of family life, however, the Holy Father admitted that “many times, it is not ideal, it is not what we dreamt of, nor what ‘should have been’” but said “the new wine of the wedding feast of Cana came from the water jars, the jars used for ablutions, we might even say from the place where everyone had left their sins”.
For those who fear that time has passed them by and “the wine has run out”, the Pope stressed that “the finest of wines will come for every person who stakes everything on love”.
Insisting that “nothing is useless” in our immediate families and our greater human family, the Pope asked those gathered to pray for the Church as it approaches this October’s synod. “I ask you to pray fervently for this intention, so that Christ can take even what might seem to us impure, scandalous or threatening, and turn it – by making it part of his ‘hour’ – into a miracle”, he said.
In an attempt at discouraging speculation about this, Vatican spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi explained on the flight to Guayaquil that “the Pope hopes this synod will help people to move from situations of sin to a state of grace; he’s not referring to anything specific”.
After Mass the Holy Father visited the local Jesuit college, the Colegio Javier, before flying back to Quito, there to have tea – or, rather, his beloved mate – with President Rafael Correa, after which he met various delegations and walked to the city’s cathedral where he put aside his prepared text in favour of giving a brief greeting and a short prayer, blessing the thousands gathered there.
Tuesday saw the Pontiff meeting with Ecuador’s bishops and celebrating Mass in the Congress Centre of the city’s Bicentenary park, before meeting representatives of schools and universities at the Pontifical University of Ecuador. Afterwards he met members of civil society in the Church of San Francisco, and paid a private visit to Quito’s ornate Church of the Society of Jesus, known locally as la Compañía.
As The Irish Catholic went to press, Wednesday was scheduled to see him visiting the Rest Home of the Missionaries of Charity, before travelling 20 miles to El Quinche to meet clergy, religious and seminarians at the national Marian shrine of Our Lady of Quinche.
Later that day he was to fly to Bolivia, where he was to give an address at El Alto airport in La Paz, and pay a courtesy visit to President Evo Morales after the welcome ceremony, before meeting representatives of the civil authorities at the city’s cathedral. Vatican sources have said that given the city’s altitude, it would be inadvisable to the Pope to spend more than a few hours there, and so the Pope was due to fly on to Santa Cruz de la Sierra where he would spend the night.
On Thursday morning, Pope Francis is scheduled to celebrate Mass in the square of Christ the Redeemer, and to meet with men and women religious at the Don Bosco school, before addressing grass-roots activists at the second World Meeting of Popular Movements.
The following day the Pope is expected to visit Bolivia’s largest prison, the Santa Cruz-Palmasola re-education centre, and to meet the country’s bishops at the local parish church, before boarding his flight to Paraguay for the last leg of his three-country trip.
The Pontiff’s plane should land around 3pm local time at Asuncion’s Silvio Pettirossi airport, from where Pope Francis will pay a courtesy visit to President Horacio Cartes at the Palacio de Lopez, where he is also due to meet officials and members of the diplomatic corps.
On Saturday, the Holy Father aims to visit the Ninos de Acosta Nu general paediatric hospital, before celebrating Mass in the square before the basilica at Caacupé, which houses a sixteenth-century statue of Mary with which numerous miracles are associated. Later that day he plans to meet with representatives of civil society in the San Jose school’s Leon Condou stadium, before celebrating vespers with the clergy, religious, seminarians and others in the metropolitan cathedral of Our Lady of Asuncion.
The final day of the Pope’s trip, Sunday July 12, is intended to begin with a visit to the people of Banado Norte in the Chapel of San Juan Batista, and Mass in the Nu Guazu field, before Pope Francis meets and eats with Paraguay’s bishops in the apostolic nunciature’s cultural centre, after which he aims to meet young people at the Costanera riverside area and board his flight for Rome at 7pm, with a view to arriving early on Monday afternoon.