Latin America & Caribbean

Pope Francis focuses on poor in Bolivia

Pope Francis is surrounded by greeting children next to Bolivia's President Evo Morales after his arrival in La Paz's airport in El Alto Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Pope Francis was greeted by children and President Evo Morales as he landed in Bolivia

Pope Francis is visiting Bolivia, on the second leg of his tour of Latin America's three poorest countries.

After landing at La Paz airport, the pontiff spoke of the need to protect the most vulnerable in society from the impact of capitalism.

He was greeted by President Evo Morales, Bolivia's first indigenous leader, who gave him a ritual pouch with coca - a sacred leaf in the Andes.

The Pope flew in from Ecuador. He will also visit Paraguay.

'Double religion'

During the airport welcome ceremony, the pontiff praised Bolivia - a majority indigenous country - for encouraging the poor to be active citizens.

"Bolivia is making important steps towards including broad sectors in the country's economic, social and political life," he said.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Bolivia's national anthem was sung by President Evo Morales, an Aymara Indian, standing alongside Pope Francis

President Morales is a fan of Pope Francis, who he says shares many of his views on how capitalism leads to social inequalities, BBC regional analyst Candace Piette says.

But she says Mr Morales' government has for many years had an uneasy relationship with the Catholic Church.

After taking office in 2006, Mr Morales ordered the Bible and cross to be removed from the presidential palace - both symbols of colonial Spanish oppression.

A new constitution in 2009 made Bolivia a secular state, and Andean religious rituals replaced Catholic rites at official state ceremonies.

President Morales has said he is a Catholic but - like many Bolivians - he believes there is plenty of room for both Christianity and traditional belief.

"I remain convinced that we Bolivians have a double religion, double faith," he said in January.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Many of the faithful waited for hours in the bitter cold in their traditional dress for the arrival of the Pope

But Mr Morales' attitude to the church changed radically when Francis became pope. He visited him twice in Rome and invited him to come to Bolivia, our analyst says.

Before leaving for the lowland city of Santa Cruz, Pope Francis visited the site where the body of a Jesuit Bolivian priest was found.

The priest was tortured and murdered in 1980 during the military rule for defending the rights of Bolivia's mining community.

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