Pope Francis visits ‘young Church’ with great wealth

Highlights from 9-day, 3-country tour of Latin America

In July, Pope Francis made an apostolic visit to Latin America, visiting Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay in nine days. Below we are publishing highlights of the pope’s homilies and addresses, in which he speaks on the family, his own sinfulness, and the constant presence of Mary in our lives.

Pope Francis receives a key to the city during his visit to Quito and Guayaquil, Ecuador on July 6.

Pope Francis receives a key to the city during his visit to Quito and Guayaquil, Ecuador on July 6. Photo by L’Osservatore Romano

Ecuador: “Family is the nearest hospital”
The pope celebrated the first Mass of the trip at Samanes Park in Guayaquil, Ecuador, on July 6.

“Those who love know how to serve others. We learn this especially in the family, where we become servants out of love for one another. In the heart of the family, no one is rejected; all have the same value.

“The family is the nearest hospital; when a family member is ill, it is in the home that they are cared for as long as possible. The family is the first school for the young, the best home for the elderly. The family constitutes the best ‘social capital.’ It cannot be replaced by other institutions.”

Bolivia: “The logic of love”
In Bolivia, the Holy Father met with clergy, religious and seminarians on July 9 at the Coliseum of Don Bosco College in Santa Cruz de la Sierra.

People holding flags while waiting for the pope to arrive at an airport in El Alto, Bolivia on July 8.

People holding flags while waiting for the pope to arrive at an airport in El Alto, Bolivia on July 8. Photo by Alan Holdren/CNA

“Compassion is not about zapping, it is not about silencing pain, it is about the logic of love, of suffering with. A logic, a way of thinking and feeling, which is not grounded in fear but in the freedom born of love and of desire to put the good of others before all else. A logic born of not being afraid to draw near to the pain of our people. Even if often this means no more than standing at their side and praying with them.”

“One day Jesus saw us on the side of the road, wallowing in our own pain and misery, our indifference. Each one knows his or her past. He did not close his ear to our cries. He stopped, drew near and asked what he could do for us.”

“Saved from his many sins”
Pope Francis spoke to inmates at the Santa Cruz-Palmasola Rehabilitation Center in Santa Cruz de la Sierra on July 10, his last day in Bolivia

“You may be asking yourselves: ‘Who is this man standing before us?’ I would like to reply to that question with something absolutely certain about my own life. The man standing before you is a man who has experienced forgiveness. A man who was, and is, saved from his many sins. That is who I am. I don’t have much more to give you or to offer you, but I want to share with you what I do have and what I love. It is Jesus Christ, the mercy of the Father.”

Paraguay: “Never alone”
On the first full day in Paraguay, July 11, Pope Francis celebrated Mass at the Marian Shrine of Caacupé, Paraguay.

Women hold a banner with an image of Pope Francis in Caacupe, Paraguay during his visit July 11.

Women hold a banner with an image of Pope Francis in Caacupe, Paraguay during his visit July 11. Photo by Alan Holdren/CNA

“Mary has always been in our hospitals, our schools and our homes. She has always sat at table in every home. She has always been part of the history of this country, making it a nation. Hers has been a discreet and silent presence, making itself felt through a statue, a holy card or a medal. Under the sign of the rosary, we know that we are never alone, that she always accompanies us.”

“Like Mary, you lived through many difficult situations which, in the eyes of the world, would seem to discredit all faith. Yet, like Mary, inspired and sustained by her example, you continued to believe, even ‘hoping against all hope’ (Rom 4:18). When all seemed to be falling apart, with Mary you said: ‘Let us not be afraid, the Lord is with us; he is with our people, with our families; let us do what he tells us.’”

“Nations of young people”
The pope held a press conference July 12 during his flight from Asunción, Paraguay, to Rome, Italy.

“The Latin American Church has a great wealth. She’s a young Church. … Her theology is rich, it’s searching. … I believe that this Church can offer us much.

“I’ll say one thing that really struck me. In all three countries, all three of them, along the streets there were mother and fathers with their children, showing their children. I’ve never seen so many children, so many.

“These new nations of young people strengthen us. As for the Church, a young Church with so many problems, this is the message I find: Don’t be afraid of this youth and freshness of the Church. She may also be a little disorganized, but with time she will be and will do us so much good.”


COMING UP: Moral courage and the many cultures of death

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CRACOW. Thanks to the pandemic, it’s been two years since I was last in Cracow, where for three decades I’ve done extensive research and taught great students while forming friendships with many remarkable people. It was wonderful to be back in one of the world’s greatest cities, and soon after I arrived in late June, I took a long walk to see what had changed. The first major difference I noticed was that the plaza in front of the central railway station (named for my late friend Jan Nowak-Jeziorański, a World War II courier for the Polish Home Army and the man from whom the future John Paul II got real news via Radio Free Europe’s Polish service) has a new, strikingly modern memorial, dedicated to the memory of Colonel Ryszard Kukliński.

That name is not well-known throughout a western world that has largely forgotten the meaning and lessons of the Cold War. But if Jan Nowak-Jeziorański was right when he spoke about the Polish colonel in the mid-1990s, Ryszard Kuklinski was a genuine hero of the long, twilight struggle against communist totalitarianism — the man who helped prevent a bloody Soviet invasion of Poland to crush the nascent Solidarity movement.

An accomplished officer in the communist-era Polish Army, Ryszard Kukliński began to doubt the truth of what he had been told about the West when, as a member of an international commission, he met American military men in Vietnam in the mid-1960s. His doubts about communism and its purposes intensified by orders of magnitude in 1968, when the brutal Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia ground the Prague Spring to dust under the treads of Soviet tanks, and in 1970, when the Polish army shot Polish workers during labor strife. Privy to some of the Warsaw Pact’s most confidential strategic plans, he became convinced that, if the Cold War turned hot and the east bloc attacked the West, the Soviets would sacrifice Poland as retaliatory western tactical nuclear strikes hit the second wave of Warsaw Pact troops pushing west. So, in 1972, Kukliński, risking his life and his family’s safety, offered his services to the United States and for the next nine years was the West’s most important intelligence asset behind the iron curtain.

His greatest service to Poland and the cause of freedom came in the later months of 1980. Thanks to his efforts, the United States knew the entire order-of-battle the Soviet Union had organized to stamp out Solidarity, which had held its first formal congress in September 1980. With that information, and working in concert with the incoming Reagan administration, outgoing national security adviser Zbigniew Brzeziński, with the help of the AFL-CIO’s Lane Kirkland, was able to organize a comprehensive western response to a potential Soviet invasion of Poland: an international economic blockade that would have severely damaged the already-staggering Soviet economy. Faced with economic ruin, the Soviet leadership backed down and the Warsaw Pact divisions that had surrounded Poland withdrew.

Colonel Kukliński and his family were exfiltrated to the West; two of his sons later died under dubious circumstances that may have involved Russian retribution, and Kukliński lived out his life under an assumed name in the United States, dying in 2004. There was public controversy when he returned to his native Poland for a 1998 visit, with some charging that he had violated his officer’s oath by working for American intelligence for a decade. John Paul II, through various intermediaries, quietly passed the word that Kukliński was to be regarded in Poland as a national hero. Zbigniew Brzeziński, who held the exact same view, put it brilliantly, in a comment that appears on the Kukliński Memorial in Cracow: Colonel Kukliński was “the first Polish officer in NATO.” 

Communism was a distinctive form of the culture of death, for the effort to create “Homo Sovieticus” was a lethal assault on souls. Colonel Ryszard Kukliński took a courageous stand against that particular culture of death, knowing as he did that freedom is never cost-free: freedom lived nobly always requires sacrifice. His example should be pondered by Catholic citizens and Catholic public officials throughout the West today, who are called to resist, with similar moral courage and effect, that form of the culture of death that masquerades as the ideology of “choice.” May we and our elected officials be as principled and brave as the Polish officer who took what John Paul II described at the United Nations in 1995 as the “the risk of freedom.”