Morales then hung a pouch around Francis’ neck, woven of alpaca with indigenous trimmings.
(AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia). Faithful hold a cross and a doll of Pope Francis as they wait for the Pontiff’s arrival to the Catholic University in Quito, Ecuador, Tuesday, July 7, 2015.
“We have huge agreements with the pope’s economic and social policies, agreements on welfare”, said Morales on Tuesday in Santa Cruz, adding that it was the first time he had felt such ideological affinity with a pontiff.
Francis’ environmental message has been cheered by indigenous groups, who have complained of being increasingly marginalized by Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa as he pushes mining and oil drilling in the Amazon. “The church is also questioning some decisions made about development in the country”.
The Pope spoke off-the-cuff July 8 to a gathering of clergy, men and women religious, and seminarians at the shrine of Our Lady of Quinche, the patroness of Ecuador.
“One thing is certain: we can no longer turn our backs on reality, on our brothers and sisters, on Mother Earth”, he said at the Pontifical Catholic University of Ecuador. Morales has been hailed as an environmental hero to many for demanding rich nations do more to halt global warming, but he has been assailed by conservationists at home who say he puts oil and gas extraction ahead of clean water and forests.
Pope Francis has ended his private visit to the Church of the Society of Jesus in Quito and returned to the Vatican ambassador’s residence for his final night in Ecuador.
His remarks on the environment were the first since he released his encyclical last month calling on world leaders to take immediate action to halt climate change, including ending the Earth’s reliance on fossil fuels.
Selfishness, consumerism, a desire for money and power, a lack of respect for God’s design for all of creation – human beings included – have a negative impact on people and on the environment, he said. The government of Bolivian President Evo Morales, an indigenous former grower of coca leaves, has said it will offer leaves and tea to the pope – who, at age 78 and missing part of a lung, might be suffering – but the Vatican has not said whether he will accept.
His words in Ecuador were a foretaste of his September trip to the United States, where most of the criticism of the encyclical has come.
“Soon we will find out if there is a “Francis effect” in his native region in terms of Mass attendance and participation in church life”, Andrew Chesnut, an expert on Catholicism and religion in Latin America, told CNN. In that document, Bolivia became an officially secular country, and Andean rituals replaced Catholic ones at official events. But it lost a major skirmish when it tried to prohibit obligatory Catholic religious education in the 15 percent of schools run by the church.
The pope already celebrated a huge outdoor mass with 800,000 people at a park in the coastal city of Guayaquil, where he focused on the theme of family as the heart of society.
President Evo Morales has given Pope Francis some politically loaded presents during the traditional exchange of gifts between heads of state.
That doesn’t square with the Bolivian church hierarchy, which in a 2012 pastoral letter called school texts that refer to Pachamama as a divinity “erroneous and a deviation”. But the sun broke out as Francis arrived in his popemobile, with fans tossing confetti on him as he zoomed by. “That way there will be fewer boys and girls whose fathers don’t recognize them”, he said at the time.
But that overlap doesn’t mean the pope has kept quiet on issues where the Church and leaders like Morales and Correa are at odds, said Groom.
The papal activities in Bolivia are set to finish on Friday, with the Pope’s visit to Palmasola, the most violent penitentiary in the country.