Morales hugged the pope as he descended from the Boliviana de Aviacion plane and hung a pouch around his neck of woven of alpaca with indigenous trimmings.
The 78-year-old pontiff drank the trimate – a tea of coca leaves, camomile and anise seeds – on the flight to Bolivia from Ecuador to alleviate altitude sickness.
The Pope’s spokeman had also hinted that he might consume some coca leaf on his trip to show respect for local Bolivian customs. “Please do not charge for grace”, the Pope said. However, in the Andes the leaves have been chewed and brewed as a mild stimulant for centuries.
“Jesus speaks these words to us, here in this square”. Pope Francis has now used it for a quick change.
Some are shielding themselves under tarps, others with umbrellas. He says he’s a bit confused about Morales’ receiving the pope, asking of the socialist president: “Wasn’t he an atheist?”
Francis used the phrase “Jallalla Bolivia” at the close of his July 8 speech of greeting to Bolivians at the airport of La Paz, the nation’s administrative capital.
The Rev. James Bretzke, a theologian at Boston College in Massachusetts, said there is no church legislation that addresses whether Christian imagery is sacrilegious since Christian art is often portrayed in a variety of ways.
Service must also be given freely, he said. It didn’t even have a few minutes on the margins.
Speeding up his delivery and increasing his volume, the pope made “the best wine is yet to come” into a litany.
The Pope’s environmental message has been cheered by indigenous groups, who have complained of being increasingly marginalised by president Rafael Correa as he pushes mining and oil drilling in the Amazon.
The scene in Santa Cruz’s Christ the Redeemer plaza was festive, with street-sellers hawking digital watches with the pope’s face on them and indigenous in feathered headdresses mingling with mestizos, or Bolivians of mixed indigenous-Spanish ancestry.
At an airport welcoming ceremony with Morales by his side, Francis praised Bolivia for taking “important steps” to include the poor and marginalized in the political and economic life of the country, South America’s poorest.
Minutes later, during his homily, Francis blasted consumerism.
The last visit by a pope to Bolivia was a six-day tour by John Paul II in 1988. The highland city sits at an elevation of almost 2½ miles (4,000 meters) above sea level. “It was really from great affection, a work designed by the very hands of Luis Espinal”, Communications Minister Marianela Paco told Patria Nueva radio. “We are Catholics, but at the same time we have rituals of our own”. In Ecuador he drew crowds totaling almost 2 million people.
Thousands in the crowd were from Bolivia’s indigenous majority: Quechua, Guarani and Aymara Indians.
The pope met with residents of the home and offered them blessings. Hundreds who had been waiting for him are applauding and a children’s chorus is singing. However, it wasn’t until the 1920s that cocaine’s drug dependence and addiction propensity became a true concern among most countries. This is vital especially for the poor to whom Latin American countries still owe a debt, Francis said in Ecuador.
Referring to the Eucharist, the Pope noted how July 9 marked the inauguration of the Fifth Eucharistic Congress, which will be held in Tarija, in Bolivia’s south. He’ll be heading there later today.
Then he’ll head to Bolivia, where church-state tensions over everything from the environment to the role of the church in society are high on the agenda.
As crucifixes go, the one with Jesus nailed to the Communist symbol handed to Pope Francis during his meeting with the Bolivian President was unusual at best, blasphemous at worse. The rest of his Bolivian stay will be in Santa Cruz. It was to culminate with a summit of farmers, fishermen and indigenous whose causes have long been championed by history’s first Latin American pope.