The Latest: Pope takes off for Rome, wrapping up LatAm visit

AP News
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Posted: Jul 12, 2015 7:42 PM
The Latest: Pope takes off for Rome, wrapping up LatAm visit

ASUNCION, Paraguay (AP) — Here are the latest developments from Pope Francis' trip to South America:

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7:40 p.m.

Pope Francis is on his way back to Rome.

The pontiff's flight took off from Asuncion, Paraguay, after a goodbye ceremony at the airport. His overnight flight on Air Italia is scheduled to land in Rome early Monday afternoon.

This was Francis' first tour of Spanish-speaking South America since the Argentine-born priest became pope in 2013. During eight days in Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay, he visited slums, prisons and hospitals while also meeting with local clergy, indigenous and other groups and the presidents of each country.

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6:45 p.m.

telling young people to shake up society, but then help clean the mess up. His exhortation came Sunday during the final event on his three-country tour in South America.

His comments were a modification of his famous exhortation in 2013, when in Rio de Janeiro he told a church full of Argentine youths that he wanted them to "make a mess" by shaking up their dioceses.

Francis told tens of thousands of young people gathered in Paraguay's capital on Sunday that a fellow priest once told him that encouraging youths to disrupt things up was all good and well, but that later others had to clean up after them.

So Francis said he was correcting himself.

"The mess that young people make, we then have to clean it up ourselves!" he said to roars of laughter. "Shake things up, but then clean it up and fix the mess that you've made."

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6:10 p.m.

At the last stop of his South American trip, three young people have given Pope Francis very personal testimonies about their lives, which haven't been easy.

The pope was particularly moved by the story told by 25-year-old Liz Fretes. She says her mother lost her cognitive faculties and "became like a child." Their roles were reversed: Fretes became the caregiver, having to change her mother's diapers, bathe her and play with her as if with a child.

Fretes thought she would never be able to make something of herself. But someone paid for her studies and she is now a nurse. She cared for her mother and her grandmother by day and went to school at night.

Fretes said she understands that her mother's illness has made her stronger.

After she spoke, the pope blessed her, kissed her forehead and hugged her. The two exchanged words privately. Then Fretes reached up and around the pope and hugged him again.

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5:05 p.m.

Pope Francis is arriving to the final event of his three-country tour in South America.

He plans to address tens of thousands of young people waiting for him at a venue along the banks of the Paraguay River in Asuncion.

Paraguayan national flags and other banners are being waved and the crowd is particularly loud.

After the meeting, the pope is scheduled to say a prayer at the site of a supermarket fire that killed hundreds in 2004. Then he plans to fly back to Rome.

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2:50 p.m.

The head of the Greek Orthodox Church in South America has had a privileged spot at Pope Francis' events this week.

Metropolitan Tarasios is an old friend of the pope's from Buenos Aires, where he is based.

The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said Sunday that Tarasios asked Francis if he might participate in the trip, and he traveled from Ecuador to Bolivia and to Paraguay on his own. On Sunday, he gave a greeting at Francis final Mass in Asuncion.

Lombardi said his presence "gave an ecumenical dimension to the trip, which otherwise wasn't very evident."

Indeed, Francis' pilgrimage has been notable for the absence of any meetings between the pope and leaders of other faiths — usually a mainstay of papal trips.

Francis has very friendly relations with the Orthodox Church; he recently cited the works of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I in his encyclical on the environment.

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2:25 p.m.

Pope Francis is starting to show the effects of his gruelling three-nation, week-long trip half-way across the world from Rome.

The 78-year-old Francis appeared to doze off a bit at the end of Mass on Sunday when the archbishop of Asuncion, Paraguay delivered a lengthy speech of thanks for his visit.

The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said it's only natural that Francis "isn't in the condition in which he left Rome" given his packed schedule.

Francis added to his official itinerary some impromptu visits on Saturday to a hospital and a Jesuit church and meetings with friends and family who came to Paraguay from Argentina.

But Lombardi says Francis tends to rally, especially when he's surrounded by the kind of young people who will be the focus of his final event Sunday.

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2:10 p.m.

The head of public relations for the Paraguayan police says that as many as 1 million people have attended Pope Francis' outdoor Mass on Sunday.

Elisa Ledesma says the estimate comes from the agency's "experience and observation."

Ledesma adds that police officials in Caacupe, where a papal Mass was held on Saturday, say that about 1 million people attended that event and the procession to the nearby sanctuary of the Virgin of Caacupe.

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2 p.m.

Pope Francis is meeting with Paraguayan bishops in a closed-door session.

One of the biggest issues in the Episcopal Conference relates to Francis' decision to oust a controversial bishop last year in Ciudad del Este, the country's second largest city that borders Brazil and Argentina. The Rev. Rogelio Livieres Plano was ousted in September.

A member of the conservative Opus Dei movement, Livieres Plano claimed shortly after his removal that he was persecuted by opposing bishops and liberal parishioners. Francis has never commented on the decision and Vatican officials have also said very little.

An Associated Press review found that during his decade as bishop, Livieres Plano made many questionable spending decisions. For example, he failed to use hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations for social works as they were intended.

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12:00 a.m.

Since Pope Francis arrived in Paraguay there have been complaints that the popemobile has moved too fast for people to get a good look at the pontiff.

There were also complaints about church authorities only permitting five people to ask questions of the pope Saturday evening.

Now, residents of the Banado Norte slum are sounding off.

Neighborhood association President Francisco Rodriguez says his wife and a neighbor were not invited to sit with the pope despite being co-founders of the chapel where the gathering was held.

Rodriguez also said the two young people who described teenage pregnancy issues with the pope at the meeting were outsiders, just like some politicians who attended like Education Minister Marta Lafuente.

When Lafuente walked onto the stage people heckled her in Guarani, shouting "Lying Minister."

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11:05 a.m.

At the outdoor Mass in Asuncion, a young lector asked the faithful to pray for Paraguay's indigenous, for the poor and others.

He also asked them to pray for a police officer who was kidnapped a year ago by leftist rebels of the EPP, or People's Paraguayan Army.

The pope made reference to abducted officer Edelio Morinigo on Saturday evening at a meeting with civil society groups. But he didn't seem to have matters clear, mentioning someone "kidnapped by the army."

At a news conference later, Paraguayan Catholic Church spokesman Mariano Mercado referred to the rebels as "criminals."

The shadowy EPP as among the world's most hermetic guerrilla movements. It has operated since 2008 in the country's north, where it has attacked police posts, soldiers and ranches. It is blamed for at least 40 killings.

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10:45 a.m.

While Pope Francis was telling people at a Mass six miles away to open their hearts to "the hungry, the infirm, the prisoners, lepers and the disabled" Pedro Fernandez was back at work picking up other people's trash.

The father of eight was presente for the pope's visit earlier Sunday to Banado Norte, the slum by the Paraguay river that frequently flods.

He told The Associated Press that the pope's visit may be good for the spirit, but he had to get out now and collect plastic bottles and cans on his motorcycle cart.

If I don't work, said Fernandez, the household doesn't eat.

He says his family is up at 3 a.m. looking for bottles and cans because he also has to pay on installments for the motorcycle cart. Until 2013, he used a horse.

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10:20 a.m.

Pope Francis is celebrating the last Mass of his three-nation South America tour on a very special altar.

It was made in honor of Paraguay's native Guarani and out of respect for Mother Earth. It is composed of 40,000 ears of corn, 200,000 coconuts and adorned with 1,000 squash gourds.

The altar was created by the artist Koki Ruiz, who also included an image of St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of the natural world and the pope's namesake.

Also pictured is St. Ignacio de Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit order the pontiff belongs to.

Ruiz told The Associated Press last week that the corn, coconut and squash are subsistence products of Paraguay's native peoples.

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9:44 a.m.

Hundreds of thousands have gathered on a huge swampy field called Nu Guazu (Nyew Gwa-ZOO) inside a military base awaiting the arrival of Pope Francis.

Among them is Argentina's president, Cristina Fernandez. She's seated with Paraguayan President Horacio Cartes.

At this very spot, Pope John Paull II in 1988 canonized Paraguay's first saint — Roque Gonzalez de Santa Cruz. The Jesuit priest was a missionary to the Guarani people.

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9:10 a.m.

Pope Francis has told the people of the flood-prone Asuncion slum he visited this morning that he couldn't have left Paraguay without visiting their land.

Many of the 15,000 families living in the poor neighborhood on the shore of the Paraguay river are squatters, refugees from the rural northeast where Brazilians and multinationals are increasingly buying up farmland for the production of soy and other crops

The residents want land titles and many wonder how they'll be affected when a planned highway is built alongside the river.

Said one, Maria Garcia: "We built our neighborhoods piece by piece, we made them livable despite the difficulties of the terrain, the rising of the river and despite public authorities who either ignored us or were hostile to us."

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8:30 a.m.

Among those waiting for the pope in Banado Norte at the St. John the Baptist chapel was 82-year-old widow Francisca de Chamorro. Her rudimentary wooden home sits right behind it.

"Now I can die in peace," she said.

Chamorro said that if the pope had visited this time last year he'd be wading through floodwater.

People waited for the pope on a soccer pitch. The church had asked people not to hang banners, but big placards were on display demanding land titles.

The locals want title to the land they live on so that when a highway is built along the river they will be compensated if they have to leave.

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8:10 a.m.

Pope Francis begins the last day of a weeklong South American tour on Sunday with a stop in an Asuncion slum that borders the Paraguay river that frequently floods it and makes its dirt roads impassable pools of mud.

The barrio's name is Banado (Ban-YA-doh) Norte. Banado means "bathed." About 15,000 families live there.

One in four Paraguayans live under the poverty line and the U.N. ranks the country in the world's top fifth in income inequality.

The pope has spent much of the past week railing about the injustices of the global capitalist system, demanding a new economic model in which the Earth's resources are distributed equally among all.

In Banado Norte, people live in shacks of plywood and corrugated metal. Pigs rummage through garbage for leftovers.