VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis’ July 5-12 visit to Latin America will not take him to his native Argentina, but it will put him closely in touch with his Jesuit roots and with one of the main characteristics of his ministry as archbishop of Buenos Aires: direct contact with the poor, the sick and those striving to bring the Gospel to bear on social inequalities.
The pope will begin his three-nation South America tour in Ecuador before moving on to Bolivia and Paraguay, the Vatican announced May 8 when it published a detailed itinerary for the visit.
Although local Jesuit communities have enjoyed Pope Francis’ special attention on several of the seven foreign trips he already has made as pope, the South American trip is the first time the Vatican has listed the encounter on the official schedule. He will have lunch July 6 with the Jesuit community at Colegio Javier in Guayaquil, Ecuador.
The next evening, he will pay a “private visit” to Quito’s Church of the Society of Jesus, known as “La Compania,” a jewel of Spanish Baroque architecture. The first Jesuits reached Ecuador in 1574, just 34 years after the society was founded by St. Ignatius of Loyola. Work on the church in Quito began in 1605.
Pope Francis will spend less than four hours in Bolivia’s capital, La Paz. Vatican sources said the city’s high elevation made it advisable for him to visit only briefly. The same evening he arrives in Bolivia, July 8, he will fly on to Santa Cruz after the welcoming ceremony, a visit with the president and a meeting with civil authorities.
Pope Francis will have the official welcoming ceremonies and private visits with the presidents of Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay as dictated by protocol; in addition, the pope will meet “civil society” leaders in Ecuador, government officials in Bolivia and members of the diplomatic corps in Paraguay.
But the heart of the visit is expected to be his public Masses and the time he spends with people often on the margins of society. On July 8, he will visit a home for the aged run by the Missionaries of Charity in Quito; in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, he will address participants in the second World Meeting of Popular Movements, a group of grass-roots activists; and in Asuncion, Paraguay, he will visit both a pediatric hospital and the residents of one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods, Banado Norte.