President Alvarado attends Pope Francis’ mass in Panama

January 28, 2019

Speaking at the close of a visit to Panama, Pope Francis on Sunday called for a peaceful resolution to the “serious situation” in Venezuela, committed to supporting immigrants and spoke of the “wound” left in the Church by sexual-abuse scandals.

The 82-year-old Argentine pope closed World Youth Day (WYD) with a mass in which he called on new generations of Catholics not to be “numbed” and prevent their dreams  from taking flight.

While the Pope was expected to address the migrant situation, the trip had two unexpected co-protagonists: the complex situation in Venezuela and the revelations of sexual abuse and its cover-up in the clergy.

During the Angelus prayer on Sunday, the head of the Vatican cried out for a “just and peaceful solution” in Venezuela, which is submerged in a crisis that divides the powers of the world. He also condemned the “terrorist hatred” in Colombia after a recent attack with car bomb.

In the midst of economic collapse, Venezuela entered a dangerous escalation of tensions following the international rejection of the government of Nicolás Maduro. That coincided with the self-proclamation of Juan Guaidó, president of the opposition party, as interim president.

The United States and Costa Rica, among several other nations, have said they do not recognize Maduro’s second presidential term due to it being the result of a “fraudulent” election. China, Russia and Turkey support Maduro.

Meanwhile, France, Germany, Spain and the United Kingdom gave an ultimatum of eight days to convene new elections.

The head of the Vatican avoided aligning himself with either side, a position that contrasts with the harsh questions that the Venezuelan Episcopal Conference has formulated against Chavismo in power.

A wounded church

During his five-day meeting with young Catholics, Francis denounced political corruption, the “plague of femicides” and the harassment of migrants in Latin America.

Some 700,000 people — according to the WYD organization — attended Sunday’s final mass.
The host president and those of Colombia, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras and Portugal — the country that will host WYD in 2022 — were also present.

The day before, in a message very much in tune with current times, Francis asked Catholic millennials to experience “something bigger” than life on social networks.

And the Pope dealt not only with the exacerbation of the Venezuelan crisis but also the dark shadow of sexual abuse.

Before the religious community, he admitted that the Church is “wounded by sin.”
Next month, the Pope will meet with bishops and seek “concrete measures” to combat “this terrible plague,” said the press director of the Holy See, Alessandro Gisotti.

Although on this trip he did not explicitly condemn the aggressions committed by priests that have eroded credibility in the church, Pope Francis described them as a “horrible crime” at a later lunch with young people, according to one of the attendees.

Migrants, condolences and peace

Throughout his visit, Francis addressed the crises that have forced migration in Latin America and condemned the stigmatization of immigrants as a “social evil.”

Caravans comprised of thousands of Hondurans, Salvadorans, Guatemalans and Nicaraguans seek asylum in the United States despite the anti-immigrant policy of President Donald Trump, which includes a proposal to build a wall on the border with Mexico.

Spurred by the economic collapse, Venezuela has also seen 2.3 million of its citizens migrate (7.6% of the population of 30 million) since 2015, according to UN statistics.

Pope Francis offered the help of the Church, saying, “We want to be the Church that fosters a culture that knows how to welcome, protect, promote and integrate [migrants].”

Before taking his flight back to Italy, the Argentine pontiff visited AIDS patients and launched a new call for peace in Colombia following a terrorist attack that left 21 dead.

He also denounced the attack on a cathedral in the Philippines that left at least 18 dead and expressed condolences to Mexico and Brazil over the explosion of a pipeline and the collapse of a mining dam, respectively.

The Pope left Panama at 6:30 p.m.


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