The Latest: Pope departs Peru, concluding South America trip
LIMA, Peru (AP) — The Latest on Pope Francis’ visit to Peru (all times local):
Pope Francis is heading back to Rome after a weeklong South America trip marred by violence and fallout from a clerical sex abuse scandal.
The pope’s plane took off from the Peruvian capital Sunday evening following a Mass before 1.3 million faithful, a warm ending to an otherwise restive trip.
Francis traveled first to Chile, where he met with and apologized to victims of clerical sex abuse. But he later stoked outrage when he said victims’ claims that a bishop knew about abuse and did nothing to stop it were “all calumny.”
Several churches were set on fire during Francis’ trip in Chile, and police fired tear gas at protesters outside a Mass in the capital, Santiago.
Francis received a far warmer welcome in Peru as he traveled deep into the Amazon to defend the rights of indigenous people and spoke against corruption.
Authorities say more than 1 million people are gathered at an airbase for Pope Francis’ final Mass in Peru as he concludes a restive trip to Latin America.
Juan Rivera is a 31-year-old computer engineer in attendance. He says he is hoping to hear “words of encouragement” that can help Peruvians reconcile their differences.
Many in the country are upset over the recent pardon of former strongman Alberto Fujimori, who had been sentenced to 25 years for his role in the killings of 25 people by security forces while he was president.
The nation has also been jolted by a region-wide political corruption scandal involving the Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht.
Several women cried as Francis left the Apostolic Nunciature and blessed their rosaries.
At the airbase on Lima’s southern outskirts, firefighters streamed water at the crowds under a hot sun and fluttering Vatican and Peruvian flags.
Police spokesman Veronica Marquez said 1.2 million people showed up. Vatican spokesman Greg Burke gave a figure of 1.3 million, citing local officials.
The pontiff is scheduled to return to Rome later Sunday.
The American cardinal who publicly rebuked Pope Francis over his remarks about Chilean sex abuse victims is concelebrating Francis’ final Mass in Peru.
Cardinal Sean O’Malley is the archbishop of Boston and Francis’ top abuse adviser.
He is one of dozens of bishops and cardinals celebrating the Sunday service under a huge, tented altar set up on a dusty Lima airfield, the last event of the pontiff’s weeklong visit to Chile and Peru.
O’Malley publicly rebuked Francis on Saturday for accusing victims of Chile’s most notorious pedophile priest of slandering another bishop with their claims.
The cardinal said the pope’s words were “a source of great pain for survivors of sexual abuse.”
Francis is likely to face questions about the issue on his in-flight news conference while returning to Rome.
Pope Francis is telling young Peruvians that God loves them as they are and there’s no need to “Photoshop” their hearts to make them seem perfect.
At a noon prayer from Lima’s Plaza de Armas, Francis sought to speak to young people in their own language in encouraging them in their faith.
He said: “I know we all like to see digitally enhanced photographs, but that only works for pictures; we cannot Photoshop others, the world or ourselves.”
He added that “there are pictures that are very nice, but completely fake. Let me assure you that the heart can’t be Photoshopped, because that’s where authentic love and genuine happiness can be found.”
Francis is known for his blunt speaking style. Earlier Sunday he told Peruvian bishops they need to speak the language of young people to help them understand the message of the Gospel, just as Roman Catholic missionaries learned the languages of indigenous peoples as they worked to convert them.
Pope Francis is demanding that Congo authorities do everything in their power to avoid violence amid deadly anti-government demonstrations.
Francis made the appeal from the Peruvian capital, where he led thousands of young people in prayer.
He said of Congo: “I ask the authorities and those responsible and all those in this beloved country that they use maximum commitment and effort to avoid all forms of violence and look for solutions in favor of the common good.”
Congolese police used tear gas and gunfire to disperse thousands of demonstrators Sunday in clashes that left five people dead and injured more than 33. The protesters had marched after church services calling for President Joseph Kabila to step down.
The United States and others have condemned Congolese security forces’ response to the protests at more than 160 churches, which included tear gas being fired inside and altar boys being arrested.
Kabila, whose mandate ended in December 2016, had agreed to hold an election by the end of 2017. But Congo’s election commission later said the vote could be held until December 2018.
Pope Francis says the sprawling Odebrecht bribery scandal that has rippled across Latin America is “just a small anecdote” in a scourge of corruption throughout the region.
Francis said Sunday in remarks to bishops in Peru that politics in much of Latin America is in a state of “crisis” because of graft.
It is the second time he has addressed corruption during his visit to Peru, one of the countries embroiled in the Odebrecht scandal.
President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski narrowly escaped impeachment over his ties to the Brazilian construction giant in December. Two former presidents are accused of accepting bribes, and a third is under investigation.
Odebrecht had admitted to paying hundreds of millions of dollars in bribes to politicians throughout the region in exchange for lucrative public works contracts.
The controversy over Pope Francis’ accusations of slander against victims of Chile’s most notorious pedophile priest has followed him to Peru.
A banner hanging from a building near the Lima church where Francis prayed on Sunday read “Francis, here there is proof” and featured a photo of the disgraced founder of a Peru-based Catholic lay movement, Sodalitium Christianae Vitae.
The Vatican last week took over the movement after Peruvian prosecutors announced they wanted to arrest the founder, Luis Figari. An independent investigation found Figari sodomized recruits and forced them to fondle him and one another, liked to watch them “experience pain, discomfort and fear,” and humiliated them in front of others.
In Chile, Francis accused victims of the country’s most notorious sexual abuser, the Rev. Fernando Karadima, of slandering another bishop by saying he knew of Karadima’s abuse but did nothing. Francis said there was “not one shred of proof” implicating the bishop and that the accusations against him were “calumny.”
The comments caused such an outcry that Francis’ top sexual abuse adviser issued a highly unusual public rebuke of the pope.
Pope Francis has had a special group of visitors call on him at the Vatican’s residence in Peru: four prisoners who were released for a brief spell to greet him.
Vatican spokesman Greg Burke said the three men and one woman came from prisons in Arequipa, Ayacucho, Cuzco and Castro.
The greeting took place before Francis presided over a morning prayer Sunday with hundreds of contemplative and cloistered nuns at the Lord of Miracles sanctuary, which features an icon of Christ that survived a devastating earthquake in 1655 and is revered by many Peruvians.
Francis urged them to dedicate their prayers to those who are “thrown away” by society, including prisoners, migrants and drug addicts.
He told them: “By your prayers you can heal the wounds of many.”
Francis frequently meets with prisoners during his foreign trips and visited a women’s prison in Santiago, Chile on his seven-day trip to that country and Peru. He uses the meetings to encourage those deprived of their freedom to not lose hope.