CARTAGENA, Colombia- Pope Francis wrapped up his Colombia trip with a deeply personal final day Sunday honoring St. Peter Claver, a fellow Jesuit who ministered to thousands of African slaves who passed through the port of Cartagena during Spanish colonial times.
His visit to Cartagena get off to a rocky start, however, when he banged his head on his popemobile, cutting his eyebrow and getting a swollen, black left eye. Francis iced his cheekbone and received a butterfly patch to cover the cut, and he continued his popemobile tour without incident.
Francis was visiting the poor San Francisco neighborhood to dedicate new homes for the homeless before paying homage to Claver at the church that bears his name in the city’s historic center.
Claver, the self-described “slave of the slaves eternally, ” has been adored by Jesuits, popes and human rights campaigners for centuries for having insisted on recognizing the dignity of slaves when others treated them as mere merchandise to be bought and sold.
On the eve of his visit to Cartagena, Francis celebrated Claver’s feast day by praising the 17 th century Spanish missionary for having “understood, as a adherent of Jesus, that he could not remain indifferent to the agony of the most helpless and mistreated of his time, and that “hes to” do something to alleviate their suffering.”
History’s first Latin American pope has similarly insisted on ministering to society’s most marginal and making them the focus of the Catholic Church’s mission. He takes special care of the homeless who live around the Vatican, attains regular phone calls to prisoners, brought a dozen Syrian refugees home with him from a Greek refugee camp, and espouses the sick, the maim and the deformed every opportunity he gets.
He is to pray at Claver’s tomb on Sunday after laying the foundation for new mansions for homeless person in Cartagena, the city famous for its UNESCO-awarded historic center but also home to slums and shanties.
Francis is likely to hold Claver up as a model for today’s Catholic Church, someone who insisted on recognizing the inherent human rights of everyone. It’s a message he referenced in Medellin on Saturday during a Mass on a rain-soaked airport tarmac that drew upward of 1 million people. Francis demanded that his church not hold fast to rigid creed but instead seek out the sinners and outcasts and welcome them in.
“My brothers, the church is not a customs post, ” Francis said. “It wants its doorways to be open.”
Francis returns to Rome from Cartagena on Sunday night, ending a five-day visit highlighted by a huge prayer of reconciliation that brought together victims of Colombia’s long-running conflict and demobilized guerrillas and paramilitary fighters.
While in Colombia, Francis refrained from making any public commentaries about the deteriorating political and humanitarian situation next door in Venezuela, though he did fulfill briefly with a delegation of Venezuelan bishops. He will most certainly be asked about it during his airborne press conference en route home.
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