Bolivian President Evo Morales hugged Pope Francis after the pontiff got off a Bolivia de Aviacion jet at the report 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.
Pope Francis News: Pope May Chew Coca Leaves During to Visit to Bolivia
For his upcoming visit to Bolivia on July 8, Pope Francis has allegedly asked to participate in the traditional chewing of coca leaves, which have for thousands of years been used in the Andes as a mild medicinal stimulant, and, since the late Victorian era, as the raw source for cocaine.
As reported by the BBC, the Vatican has not yet commented on whether or not this is true.
Although coca leaves were declared an illegal substance under the 1961 U.N. Convention on Narcotic Drugs, the growing of coca leaves for religious and medicinal purposes is legal and licensed in Bolivia. A large number of indigenous Bolivians consider the coca to be a sacred plant. Peruvian congresswoman Maria Sumire has addressed the insensitivity she feels is being displayed by the U.N. regarding a leaf that has been used as far back as 8,000 years ago by Andes-dwelling people.
"The United Nations lacks respect for the indigenous people ... who have used the coca leaf since forever. ... For indigenous people, coca is a sacred leaf that is part of their cultural identity," said the congresswoman, via Natural News.
In 2009 Bolivia's constitution declared the coca leaf to be "a cultural patrimony." President Evo Morales has been campaigning to decriminalize the consumption of coca leaves for years.
If Pope Francis chews coca leaves in his upcoming visit, this would be the highest profile figure to ever do so and would go a long way in promoting Morales’s efforts at decriminalization.
Back in 2009, film director Oliver Stone famously chewed coca leaves and played soccer with the president.
"We will be awaiting the Holy Father with the sacred coca leaf," said Machicao.
The Latest: Morales has politically charged gifts for pope
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
Bolivian President Evo Morales hugged Pope Francis after the pontiff got off a Bolivia de Aviacion jet at the report 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.
Pope Francis has arrived at the international airport near Bolivia's capital to begin the second leg of his three-nation South America visit.
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.
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."
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?"
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).
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.