Pope Francis called for a strengthening of democracy and “an end to war between brothers” upon his arrival in Paraguay for the final leg of his tour of Latin America.
Immediately upon landing in Asuncion, the largest city in Paraguay, Pope Francis paused to pay tribute to the historic visit to the country by his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, in 1988, by blessing a plaque commemorating the trip.
That papal visit came at a time of enormous social strife, and just a year before the then president, General Alfredo Stroessner, was ousted in a military coup. Pope John Paul told the Paraguayan dictator: "Respect for human rights, as is well known, is not a question of political convenience.”
Above: Pope Francis blesses plaque commemorating Pope John Paul II's visit. Photo: CNS/Paul Haring
The atmosphere was electric in Asuncion on Friday afternoon as people awaited the arrival of Pope Francis, who has been dubbed the “Messenger of Joy and Peace”. He was met at the airport by choir of children from Luque, who sang the national anthem. Francis smiled when a choir of indigenous children sang in the Ache language with hand gestures.
Shortly afterwards Pope Francis met with the President of Paraguay, Horacio Cartes, government authorities and members of the diplomatic corps at Lopez Palace in Asuncion.
Speaking in the palace gardens the Pope echoed his predecessor’s words and called urgently for the promotion of the common good, and for the strengthening of democracy that would allow it to flourish.
“Let there be an end to war between brothers,” he urged, after recalling the terrible sufferings and “contempt for human rights” endured by the country from the first days of its independence to recent times.
Dialogue was the best way for a society to promote the common good, he said, and added: “In the effort to overcome a spirit of constant conflict, convictions born of ideology or partisan interest should blend advantageously with love of the country and its people.”
He recognised that the country had made some progress towards building a solid and stable democracy, but called for its government to increase efforts to stamp out administrative corruption, and violence and drug trafficking.
Above: Dancers perform for Pope Francis in Paraguay. Photo: CNS/Paul Haring
Society must serve the poor and vulnerable, he insisted. “An economic development which fails to take into account the weakest and underprivileged is not an authentic development,” he added.
The Pope also paid tribute to the country’s women, whom he said “shouldered the heaviest burdens” as wives and widows, and in doing so brought their families and country forward.
As darkness fell at the palace Pope Francis watched a multimedia projection, with music and photos, produced by two of Paraguay’s leading artistic figures, the conductor Luis Szarán and the photographer Fernando Allen.