Pope's Colombia trip ends with focus on Cartagena's poor

Pope Francis after receiving a poncho, carriel bag and paisa hat in Medellin, Colombia, on Saturday.
Pope Francis after receiving a poncho, carriel bag and paisa hat in Medellin, Colombia, on Saturday.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

BOGOTA • Pope Francis wrapped up his trip to Colombia yesterday with a visit to the Caribbean port city of Cartagena, a top tourist destination famous for its colonial walled ramparts but which masks deep social inequality in its surrounding shanty towns.

Cartagena's narrow cobbled streets and well-preserved church squares attract millions of visitors every year, the financial fruits of which barely touch the lives of the city's poor.

The Argentine Pope has so far during his trip focused his message on reconciliation and forgiveness for a 50-year civil war that has killed more than 220,000 people and displaced millions.

The leader of the world's 1.2 billion Roman Catholics has also called for laws to end social inequality.

In Cartagena, he will focus on the marginalised, particularly children at risk of sexual exploitation, often spurred by demand from foreign tourists.

Pope Francis is due to visit the impoverished neighbourhood of San Francisco, where he will bless a shelter for at-risk Afro-Colombian girls vulnerable to child prostitution, drugs and violence.

He will then meet participants in two charity programmes and pray at the church named after St Peter Claver, renowned for his work in helping slaves in the 1600s as they came off ships from Africa to be sold in Cartagena's markets.

Some 300 Afro-Colombians who receive assistance from the Jesuit religious order, of which the Pope is a member, will pray with him in the church, which holds the relics of the saint known as the "slave of slaves".

"Cartagena needs a lot of help," said nursing student Leonard Locarno, 29, who is from the San Francisco quarter. "I hope he prays for all the people lost in vice, so that things can improve for them. There is no work here."

Around Cartagena, a city of under a million people, hundreds of thousands, many displaced by Colombia's war, live in makeshift wooden shacks in slums with open sewers and no running water. The city has been plagued by corruption scandals and a high turnover of mayors, exacerbating the divide between the rich and the poor.



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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 11, 2017, with the headline 'Pope's Colombia trip ends with focus on Cartagena's poor'. Print Edition | Subscribe