ASUNCION – With a visit to some of the country’s neediest people, the roughly 23,000 families living in Asuncion’s Bañado Norte neighborhood, and a Mass reportedly attended by one million people that paid tribute to the local popular and Guarani culture, Pope Francis on Sunday brought his visit to Paraguay to a close.
Although he is still scheduled to meet with young people in Costanera, Asuncion’s bayfront thoroughfare on the banks of the Paraguay River, before returning to Rome, Francis celebrated a huge Mass closing out his Latin American tour during which he also visited Ecuador and Bolivia.
“I well know how much the pope is loved in Paraguay. Also, I carry you in my heart and pray for you and for your country,” were the words the pontiff uttered to the assembled throng at the close of the Mass.
Francis, who arrived in Paraguay on Friday, began the day with a visit to Bañado Norte, one of the poorest areas in the Paraguayan capital, where he criticized the “lack of solidarity in faith” and the “phoniness” of those who go to Mass but do not know what takes place in marginal neighborhoods.
There, he listened to the testimonies of two people who denounced the state for abandoning the local residents.
“The state doesn’t concern itself with us or look upon us kindly,” said local coordinator Maria Adolfina Garcia, who denounced real estate speculation plans by the city government “with projects that don’t favor us whereby they intend to displace us.”
After a quick, but typical Paraguayan breakfast prepared for him by one of the local residents, the pope walked through the neighborhood’s streets and said afterwards that “a faith that is not done in solidarity is a dead faith. It’s a Christ-less faith, a Godless faith, a brotherless faith. A phony faith.”
The Mass he celebrated on the Ñu Guasu esplanade was a true tribute to the country’s popular and indigenous culture, with popular songs, readings and the reciting of “Our Father” in the Guarani language.
Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said at a press conference that “a million people” were estimated to have attended the Mass, along with Argentine President Cristina Fernandez, who was seated in the area reserved for top officials along with Paraguayan President Horacio Cartes, and following the Eucharist she went up to the altar to greet the pontiff and present him with a picture.
Before his scheduled departure from Paraguay at 7 p.m., Francis is to share a meal with the country’s bishops and meet with young people in Costanera.