SUNDAY ENGLISH MASS IN ASSISI: ALTAR OF THE LOWER BASILICA – UPDATE ON PAPAL TRIP IN BOLIVIA, CLARIFICATION OF MORALES GIFT

There is one phrase in the CAN/EWTN news story below about Bolivian President Morales’ gift to the Holy Father that struck a chord with me: “While the audio is a bit marred by the clicking of journalists’ cameras, the embarrassment of the Pope seems clear.”

When visiting heads of State or Government are received in the Apostolic Palace by Popes, a Swiss Guard honor guard accompanies them from the San Damaso courtyard where their car arrives, to an elevator that brings the guest of honor and his/her entourage to the upper floors of the papal palace. There is also an official, usually Abp. Georg Gaenswein, of the Prefecture of the Papal Household by the side of the visitor.

The guest is ushered into the papal library where the Pope is usually waiting behind his desk. For just a matter of seconds, perhaps even a minute or two, the two heads of State greet each other.

Recording such public moments are members of the media, including a small delegation of television people and photographers from the visitor’s country, CTV (Vatican television), the official Vatican photographer and a pool of journalists – traditionally two – from the press office, generally chosen by language, especially that of the visitor. Photographers and TV cameramen vie with each other for the small space accorded them on one side of the papal desk as they seek to capture an important moment.

The print media almost always end up (and I’ve been in this spot a number of times) behind the photogs and TV people, and the clicks of the cameras always drive us crazy as it makes it close to impossible – sometimes actually impossible – to catch the words of the Pope and his guest.  The pool journalists are responsible for returning to the press office to share what they saw and heard with their colleagues.

What a guest –wherever they are from – says to a Pope and what the papal response is, is always news, even if it is just the formality of greeting one another. Sometimes there can be huge political overtones in these remarks and they must be captured exactly.

I mention this so you can understand the problem the media seems to have faced in Bolivia when the president gave his unusual gifts to Pope Francis.

Try to listen to the camera clicks the next time you see two heads of State meet and you’ll understand the dilemma of the print media!

By the way, another, little mentioned but very important aspect of such visits is the protocol –protocol involving the order in which people are received, who speaks to whom, how gifts will be exchanged, etc.  I am guessing that publicly refusing a gift might be frowned on in protocol handbooks! What one says in private is another matter.

A HEADS UP on Vatican Insider: I offer a Special this week on must-see churches in Rome  – after you have visited the papal basilicas!

SUNDAY ENGLISH MASS IN ASSISI: ALTAR OF THE LOWER BASILICA

Last Sunday, Bishop Robert Baker presided at a concelebrated Mass at the main altar of the lower basilica of St. Francis in Assisi. Celebrating with him was a priest accompanying a group of Canadian pilgrims from Calgary and several Franciscans, including Fr. Justin, who had helped our small group two years earlier when the bishop said the Sunday English Mass in the upper basilica.

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Following are some photos I took in the lower basilica last Sunday as we waited for Mass to start. After Mass, as Canadian pilgrims departed and others arrived, Fr. Justin told pilgrims not to take photos!  I already had taken mine and did feel somewhat guilty, for if there were “no photo” signs, I truly did not see them. In any case, when Julie and Joe Helow and I went into the sacristy with Bishop Baker and saw the beauty of the frescoes there, I did specifically ask Fr. Justin’s permission.

The sacristy wall:

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And now some history:

Pope Gregory IX laid the first stone of the Lower Basilica the day after the canonization of St. Francis, on July 17, 1228. Two years later the saint’s body, that had been resting in the church of San Giorgio (the future St. Clare basilica) was brought here in secret for fear of looting by tomb raiders and buried in the unfinished church. No date has been recorded concerning the start of works on the Upper Basilica, but it must have been after the abdication from the order of Brother Elia in 1239, who had hitherto directed the works on the Romanesque Lower Basilica.

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Both churches were consecrated by Pope Innocent IV in 1253, before work was started on the large cycle of fresco decorations. The square outside the main facade did not exist at the time. A large flight of steps led upwards to the gothic entrance, pierced by a large rose window surrounded by the symbols of the four evangelists. This in turn was sealed off by a central drum. The lateral towers served as supports for the structure, while those near the choir contained stairs.

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In the Lower Basilica the visitor arrives first at a transept that was built after the building of the church between 1280 and 1300. The lateral chapels opposite the entrance were added between 1350 and 1400. The ceiling of the single nave that runs the entire length of the Lower Basilica is supported by cross vaulting all the way to a semicircular apse at its farthest extremity, which is preceded by a transept with barrel vaulting in its lateral arms. Between 1300 and 1350 a series of chapels were opened up in the lateral wall of the transept and nave, wrecking the frescoes that once decorated the side wall.

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Mostly painted in tempera, the cycle of paintings that decorate the nave was completed around 1260 by an unknown artist, later known as the Maestro di San Francesco. It features episodes from the life of St Francis on the left side opposite episodes from the life of Christ on the right. When the lateral chapels were opened, several of these paintings were cut in half. Although the paintings are deteriorated, they are the most important examples of Tuscan wall paintings prior to Cimabue. The high altar is from 1230, while the canopy above dates from the 14th century. Originally, it was surrounded by twelve columns, as a direct analogy with the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, but these were removed in1870.

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The paintings in the vaults (1315-20) depict the “Apotheosis of St Francis“ and allegories of Obedience, Poverty and Chastity by the so-called Maestro delle Vele. The cycle of paintings on the right hand side of the transept (The Childhood of Christ, Posthumous Miracles of St Francis) is less unitary and is partly ascribable to the workshop of Giotto (1315-20). It also contains work by Cimabue (“Enthroned Madonna with Angels and St Francis“, 1280), and Simone Martini (1321-26 “Madonna with Child and Two Wise men“ and “St Francis, St Ludwig of Toulouse, St Elisabeth of Thuringia, St Claire and an Unknown Saint“).

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The left side of the transept was on the other hand completely decorated by Lorenzo Lorenzetti and his workshop between 1315 and 1330. The cycle represents the “Passion of Christ“. (Photos by JFL: Text selections from http://www.assisionline.com/assisi__162.html)

UPDATE ON PAPAL TRIP IN BOLIVIA, CLARIFICATION OF MORALES GIFT

La Paz, Bolivia, Jul 9, 2015 / 10:45 am (CNA/EWTN News).- When leftist Bolivian president Evo Morales on Thursday presented Pope Francis with a “communist crucifix” – a carving of Christ crucified on the hammer of a hammer and sickle – the Pope appeared to say, “This is not ok,” while shaking his head. Shortly after his July 8 arrival at the Bolivian administrative capital of La Paz, Pope Francis made a courtesy visit to Morales at the Palace of Government. At such meetings, the leaders customarily exchange gifts; Pope Francis gave the Bolivian president a mosaic of the Marian icon of the “Salus Populus Romani,” her role as patroness of Rome. Morales explained what his gift to the Pope was as he gave it to him. In the video, filmed by the Vatican Television Center and transmitted throughout the world, the Pope appears to be saying “No está bien eso” – “This is not ok” – while shaking his head. While the audio is a bit marred by the clicking of journalists’ cameras, the embarrassment of the Pope seems clear.

The cross with a hammer and sickle is a reproduction of another carved during the 1970s by Fr. Luis Espinal Camps, a Spanish Jesuit who was a missionary in Bolivia who was killed in 1980 during the Bolivian dictatorship. At a July 9 press briefing the Holy See Press Office director, Fr. Federico Lombardi, noted the lack of clarity in the audio of the exchange, and remarked that Pope Francis had been unaware the crucifix was a replica of Fr. Espinal’s. He also claimed that Fr. Espinal’s use of it was not ideological but expressed a hope for dialogue between communism and the Church, adding that Pope Francis’ remark likely expresed a sentiment of “I didn’t know,” rather than “This is not right.”

Morales’ gift has sparked a worldwide controversy, and reactions were not long in coming. The majority of them accuse Morales of trying to politicize the Pope’s visit. Morales is head of Bolivia’s Movement for Socialism party, and his adminstration has focused on implementing leftist policies in the nation. Since coming to power in 2006, Morales has frequently sparred with the Bolivian bishops. Catholics from various Hispanophone countries rejected Morales’ gesture, considering it offensive to the numerous victims of terrorist groups in Latin America and of the historical totalitarian communist regimes.

Bishop Jose Munilla Aguirre of San Sebastián, a Spaniard, tweeted: “The height of arrogance is to manipulate God in the service of atheistic ideologies … Today, once again: #ChristCrucified”.

Fr. Espinal – whose “communist crucifix” was the model for Morales’ gift to the Pope – was a journalist who advocated for human rights and democracy, continues to be a source of controversy in Bolivia. While en route from the La Paz airport to the presidential palace,

Pope Francis stopped to pray at the location where Fr. Espinal’s corpse was found after his March 21, 1980 kidnapping and murder. “Dear sisters and brothers. I stopped here to greet you and above all to remember. To remember a brother, our brother, a victim of interests who did not want him to fight for the freedom of Bolivia,” the Pope said to those gathered at the site, after arriving by way of an open popemobile. “May Christ draw this man into himself. Lord give him eternal rest and may light shine for him that has no end.”

Some regard Fr. Espinal as a martyr who lived the Gospel with the same spirit as Blessed Oscar Romero – who was martyred by right wing Salvadorans two days after Fr. Espinal’s death – while others claim the priest was a communist and became too involved in politics.

Born in 1932 in Barcelona, Fr. Espinal studied both philosophy and theology before entering the Jesuit novitiate in Veruela in Zaragoza at the age of 17. The same year he traveled to Bergamo, Italy to study audiovisual journalism. After two years he returned to Spain and began to work for Spanish radio and television corporation TVE at the height of  Francisco Franco’s rule. Fr. Espinola denounced the censorships placed on TVE under Franco and left Spain. He moved to Bolivia in August 1968, where he took over as chair in the journalism department of the Bolivian Catholic University, and later become sub-director. He was granted Bolivian citizenship in 1970, and over the course of the next 10 years worked in both the written and radio press, produced documentaries on social themes and got into screenwriting.

As an avid defender of human rights, the priest cofounded the Permanent Assembly of Human Rights in Bolivia in 1976. During the 1971 military coup led by Hugo Banzer Suarez, Fr. Espinola intervened on behalf of persecuted and detained politicians and trade unions. In 1977 he participated in a three-week-long hunger strike to gain general amnesty for political exiles, validity of trade unions and the withdrawal of the army from mining centers.

In 1979 Fr. Espinola founded the weekly newspaper “Aqui,” which was quickly dubbed “leftist” due to its anti-establishment views and vocal criticism of government corruption. As a result of his work, the priest was kidnapped by a group of paramilitaries March 21, 1980, while on his way home. According to police and militants at the time, the militants took Fr. Espinola to La Paz’ Achachicala slaughterhouse, where he was tortured for five hours before being shot 17 times. His body was found handcuffed and gagged the next morning.

In 2007, Morales officially declared March 21 as the “Day of Bolivian Cinema” due to the priest’s contributions in the area. On that day, cinemas and television channels are obliged to show national films, particularly relating to the themes of human rights and indigenous peoples.

Fr. Lombardi noted during a July 6 press briefing that no cause has been opened for Fr. Espinal’s beatification.

POPE FRANCIS BIDS FAREWELL TO ECUADOR, ARRIVES BOLIVIA

Saw this AP recap of the papal visit to Latin America and wanted to pass it on: it is brief and, if you’ve not had a lot of time to focus on Francis’ trip to Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay, you have the basics here, as well as some behind-the-scenes reports. There is some brief commentary and/or background on people and political situations but no lengthy quotes from the papal speeches – just enough to bring you up to date.

The Holy Father’s talks, as you can imagine, have been fascinating: He has spoken of the family, unity in the Church and society, the environment, the poor and disenfranchised, the religious life, the value and importance of education and, to representatives of civil society, he highlighted how values and virtues such as solidarity and subsidiarity are learned first in the family and lived in society.

Know one thing about this report – it is only ONE day of the papal trip!

I have been following the papal trip, but not reporting on it day by day as both http://www.ewtn.com and news.va have more than sufficient accounts of each event of each day of the papal trip. I am hoping to use some of these quieter July days, when many  Vatican employees are on holidays, councils and congregations work at a generally slower pace and no press conferences are scheduled until the fall, to complete my book on the Jubilee of Mercy.  Thanks in advance for being understanding on those days when this column is slim!

POPE FRANCIS BIDS FAREWELL TO ECUADOR, ARRIVES BOLIVIA

SANTA CRUZ, Bolivia (AP) (July 8) – Here are the latest developments from Pope Francis’ trip to South America:

9:45 p.m.

Pope Francis has landed in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, and is heading for the cardinal’s residence to turn in for the night.

The pontiff wrapped his visit to Ecuador at midday and then spent about four hours in Bolivia’s capital of La Paz. That is about all that Vatican officials felt was good for him because of the city’s high altitude – about 13,120 feet (4,000 meters).

Francis will spend the rest of the Bolivia leg of his South America trip in Santa Cruz, which is in the lowlands of central Bolivia.

His schedule for Thursday calls for an outdoor Mass in the morning and then a speech to priests and seminarians in the afternoon. He will close out the day by participating, along with Bolivian President Evo Morales, in the second World Meeting of Popular Movements.

7:25 p.m.

President Evo Morales has given Pope Francis some politically loaded presents during the traditional exchange of gifts between heads of state.

Chief among them: A crucifix carved into a wooden hammer and sickle, the Communist symbol uniting labor and peasants. The image also appears on a medallion Morales gave to Francis that he wore around his neck. (JFL: Note Pope Francis’ very perplexed expression!)

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Another politically charged gift: A copy of “The Book of the Sea,” which is about the loss of Bolivia’s access to the sea during the War of the Pacific with Chile in 1879-83. Bolivia took its bid to renegotiate access to the Pacific to the International Court of Justice in 2013, while Chile has argued the court has no jurisdiction because Bolivia’s borders were defined by a 1904 treaty. The court is expected to rule by the end of the year if it has competence to decide the case.

Francis, for his part, gave Morales a mosaic of the Madonna and a copy of his recent encyclical on the environment.

6:10 p.m.

Pope Francis stopped the popemobile briefly on the way to the presidential palace in La Paz, Bolivia, near where the body of a fellow Jesuit priest was dumped in 1980 after a military dictatorship had him killed.

The priest, Luis Espinal, was an outspoken defender of the poor, like Francis. He was also unorthodox. A skilled communicator, he used film and journalism as tools. His body was found with 12 bullet holes.

The pope got out at the roadside site, laid flowers and led the waiting crowd in a minute of silence and then prayer.

Francis said that Espinal was, in the pope’s words, “our brother victim of interests that did not want him to fight for Bolivia’s freedom.”

It was the second time in as many months that Francis has recognized a priest slain by the far right in Latin America during a period in which the United States backed dictatorships. In May, Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador was beatified 25 years after he was killed.

5:45 p.m.

In his welcoming remarks to the pope, Bolivian President Evo Morales said Francis is working toward the same goals as his government by advocating for “those most in need.”

In Morales’ words: “He who betrays a poor person, betrays Pope Francis.”

The president recalled how the Catholic Church many times in the past was on the side of the oppressors of Bolivia’s people, three-fourths of whom are of are indigenous origin.

But Morales said things are different with this pope and the Bolivian people are greeting Francis as someone who is “helping in the liberation of our people.”

Bolivia’s government does have its differences with the church, however. In recent weeks, various senior officials have engaged in a heated war of words with a Spanish priest who demands that the Morales administration devote more funds to public health.

5:30 p.m.

Pope Francis has praised Bolivia for taking important steps to include the poor and the marginalized in its political and economic life, but insists that the Catholic Church also has a “prophetic” role to play in society.

In his arrival speech, Francis recalled that Catholicism took “deep root” in Bolivia centuries ago and said the church “has continued to contribute to its development and shape its culture.” (photo:news.va)

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Bolivian President Evo Morales is an Aymara Indian known for anti-imperialist rhetoric and he came to power championing the country’s 36 indigenous groups.

But Morales has roiled the local church with anti-clerical initiatives, including declaring in the constitution that the overwhelmingly Catholic nation is a secular state.

He has also angered lowlands indigenous groups by pushing oil and natural gas drilling in wilderness areas on their traditional lands. The Catholic Church has helped give voice to those indigenous groups in their struggle.

4:55 p.m.

Bolivian President Evo Morales hugged Pope Francis after the pontiff got off a Bolivia de Aviacion jet at the airport for the capital of La Paz.

Morales then hung a pouch around Francis’ neck, woven of alpaca with indigenous trimmings. It is of the type commonly used to hold coca leaves, which are chewed by people in the Andes to alleviate altitude sickness.

Children in traditional garb from some of Bolivia’s 36 different native peoples swarmed the pope in a group hug and he took the hand of two as they walked him off the tarmac with Morales.

The crowd at the airport is about 4,000 people, bundled against the gathering cold as the sun drops to the horizon. Many tens of thousands of people are lining the motorcade route, which winds eight miles down off the wind-swept plateau into the capital along a steep bluff.

4:15 p.m.

Pope Francis has arrived at the international airport near Bolivia’s capital to begin the second leg of his three-nation South America visit (the highest airport in the world). (photo: news.va)

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His flight landed an hour later than scheduled, due to a delayed departure from Quito, the capital of Ecuador.

Francis is scheduled to spend only four hours in the Bolivian capital of La Paz because of worries about the effects of its high altitude on the 78-year-old pontiff. The city is 13,123 feet (4,000 meters) above sea level.

Tonight he will fly to Santa Cruz, a city in the lowlands of central Bolivia.

4 p.m.

Bolivia’s ABI official news agency is reporting that Pope Francis will chew coca leaves to fight off altitude sickness when he arrives for a visit to the capital of La Paz.

Francis has just one functioning lung and La Paz and the neighboring city of El Alto where the airport is are 13,123 feet (4,000 meters) above sea level. The city he’s just left, Quito, Ecuador, is nearly a mile lower.

While it’s not certain that the pope will actually chew coca, a native Ayamara woman among those waiting in El Alto to see the pope pass by says she would love to see that.

Ines Canqui notes that the indigenous people of the Andes often chew coca. In her words, “We know it gives strength. You don’t get tired and, what’s more, it will help him not feel strongly the altitude change.”

3:30 p.m.

Bolivians are gathering to greet Pope Francis in the teeming city of El Alto, and are being whipped by stiff winds under a piercing sun on the Andes high plain.

Some are shielding themselves under tarps, others with umbrellas. They are singing hymns in varying styles, some in two of Latin America’s dominant non-Spanish tongues.

The international airport for Bolivia’s capital of La Paz is in the neighboring city of El Alto.

The vast majority of El Alto’s 1.2 million people are native Aymara like Bolivian President Evo Morales. Together with Quechua-speakers they dominate Bolivia’s western highlands, accounting for 90 percent of the population.

Merchant Teofilo Quispe brought his 6-year-old son to see the pope. Quispe says he is Catholic but not much of a believer. He says he’s a bit confused about Morales’ receiving the pope, asking of the socialist president: “Wasn’t he an atheist?”

3:20 p.m.

Bolivians will have to wait a little longer for the arrival of Pope Francis.

Church officials say the plane carrying the pontiff left Quito, Ecuador, behind schedule and will arrive in La Paz about 45 minutes later than planned. Francis had been scheduled to land near Bolivia’s capital at 4:15 p.m.

Archbishop Edmundo Abastoflor of La Paz also says the welcoming ceremony may be moved inside the airport to avoid chilling the 78-year-old pope. The airport is 4,000 meters (about 13,123 feet) above sea level and the temperature is around 54 degrees Fahrenheit (12 degrees Celsius).

2:15 p.m.

Ecuador’s biggest indigenous group is expressing frustration that it didn’t have a private audience with Pope Francis as it sought during his three-day visit. It didn’t even have a few minutes on the margins. In fact, it had to break protocol to deliver a letter to the pope.

Twenty-five delegates of the Federation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador, or CONAIE, attended an invitation-only gathering Tuesday evening that included business leaders, and cultural and sports figures. Delegates, however, were unable to approach the pope, so they asked a girl to hand him the letter.

Federation official Severnino Sharupi says CONAIE deserved a meeting because Francis “puts the poor and the environment at the center of his discourse and we represent both causes.”

The pope calls the indigenous the best stewards of the environment and the most affected by deforestation and contamination.

CONAIE is at odds with President Rafael Correa over his encouragement of oil drilling and mining on traditional native lands in the Amazon wilderness.

The pope left Ecuador for La Paz, Bolivia, on Wednesday.

1:20 p.m.

Pope Francis is on his way to Bolivia after three days in Ecuador, where he celebrated Masses, met with clergy and lay groups and spoke about the need to protect the environment. Bolivia, one of South America’s poorest nations, is the second of three countries Francis will be visiting on his tour of the continent.

Before boarding the Boliviana de Aviacion plane, the pope hugged and blessed dozens of children who were dressed in traditional Andean garb.

Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa said his goodbyes to Francis as the pope walked up the stairs of the plane. Per his usual, Francis carried his small black suitcase.

The pope is expected to arrive in La Paz, Bolivia, in the late afternoon.

12:25 p.m.

Bolivian president Evo Morales is planning to shorten the speech he wrote to welcome Pope Francis to La Paz this afternoon. The highland city sits at an elevation of nearly 2½ miles (4,000 meters) above sea level.

Marianela Paco Duran, Bolivia’s minister of communication, told reporters Wednesday that Morales had planned to speak 15 minutes when Francis arrived in La Paz. Instead, she said he’ll only speak for five minutes.

She explained: “The Bolivian people want to hear from the pope and see the pope as much as possible. For that reason, and considering the pope’s health, our president will use minimal time for his words of welcome.”

The stop in La Paz is being kept to four hours to spare the 78-year-old pope from spending much time at a high altitude, which can cause nausea and headaches for people not acclimated to it. The rest of his Bolivian stay will be in Santa Cruz, which is about 1,300 feet (416 meters) above sea level.

Francis looked to be in good spirits during his last appearance in Ecuador, where he joked with priests and nuns in Quito after ditching his prepared remarks.

11:55 a.m.

Pope Francis ditched the speech prepared for a gathering of Ecuadorean priests and nuns, saying he just didn’t feel like reading it. Instead, he delivered an off-the-cuff monologue that drew laughs from the crowd gathered at Quito’s El Quinche shrine.

Francis urged the clergy and sisters gathered to never forget where they came from, and to never feel that they deserve anything.

Noting the various native languages spoken in Ecuador, he said: “Don’t forget your roots.”

10:45 a.m.

Greeted by shouts of “Long live the pope!,” Francis has entered the sanctuary of El Quinche for his final public event in Ecuador before departing for Bolivia.

The pope was received by a crowd that cheered, applauded and practically bathed his popemobile in rose petals.

Francis was presented with a bouquet of roses, one of the main cultivated products of the region. He then approached a statue of the virgin of El Quinche, pausing to pray.

The sanctuary, some 50 kilometers (32 miles) east of Quito, is where Pope Francis is speaking to some 6,500 priests and seminarians.

9:50 a.m.

Pope Francis is visiting an Ecuadorean nursing home that is run by the Missionary Sisters of Charity, the religious order founded by Mother Teresa. More than a dozen nuns welcomed the pope and presented him with a white collar with blue tassels, the colors of the order.

The pope met with residents of the home and offered them blessings. Many of the residents are in wheelchairs.

The Quito home is for elderly who lack the resources to remain in their own homes or family members able to care for them.

9:15 a.m.

Pope Francis has emerged from the nunciature in Quito where he spent the night. Hundreds who had been waiting for him are applauding and a children’s chorus is singing. Many people are throwing rose petals as the pope waves to them.

Along the route that Francis will take to visit an elderly home, thousands are lined up. After the visit to nursing home, Francis will meet with local clergy and then fly to Bolivia for the next leg of his trip.

8:45 a.m.

The next stop on the pope’s South American tour is Bolivia. He’ll be heading there later today.

Before leaving Ecuador, in Quito he’ll met with elderly people and give a pep talk to local clergy.

Then he’ll head to Bolivia, where church-state tensions over everything from the environment to the role of the church in society are high on the agenda.

In La Paz, Pope Francis will be welcomed by Bolivian President Evo Morales, an Aymara Indian known for his anti-imperialist and socialist stands.

The stop in La Paz is being kept to four hours to spare the 78-year-old pope from the taxing 4,000-meter (13,120-foot) elevation. The rest of his Bolivian stay will be in Santa Cruz.

Francis and Morales have met on several occasions. The most recent meeting was in October when the president, a former coca farmer, participated in a Vatican summit of grassroots groups of indigenous and advocates for the poor who have been championed by Francis.