Pope visits slum village in Paraguay

Posted at 12:23 PM, Jul 12, 2015

ASUNCION, Paraguay — Pope Francis visited a slum village in Paraguay on Sunday, telling its people that they remind him of the Holy Family — Jesus, Mary and Joseph — and urging them not to let their struggles extinguish their hope or their faith.

“I have looked forward to being with you here today,” the Pope said as he visited the small Chapel of San Juan Bautista the Banado Norte neighborhood of Asuncion, Paraguay’s capital. “I could not come to Paraguay without spending some time with you, here on your land.” Francis emphasized the last two words, speaking just minutes after the villagers had told him that their homes are threatened by flooding and economic development.

It was one of Pope Francis’ final stops in his weeklong trip to Latin America, which ends Sunday. Last week, Francis visited Ecuador and Paraguay.

The impoverished area along the Paraguay River has been flooded countless times, leaving many homes in shambles, roads covered with rocks and the neighborhood soccer field filled with mud. But the spirit of this area was renewed by Pope Francis’ visit on Sunday morning.

“To see your faces, your children, your elderly, and to hear about your experiences and everything you went through to be here, to have a dignified life and a roof over your heads, to endure the bad weather and the flooding of these last few weeks,” the Pope said, “all this makes me think of the little family of Bethlehem. Your struggles have not taken away your laughter, your joy and your hope, struggles which have not lessened your sense of solidarity but if anything, have made it grow.”

In the days before Francis’ visit, shoeless boys played on that field and organizers set up a stage with the colors of the Vatican along the sideline. It’s right next to the tiny San Juan chapel, by far the smallest place of worship the Pope visited during his eight-day journey through Latin America.

Behind the altar, humble homes had been lathered with fresh paint and images of the Holy Father were peppered on the walls.

One of those homes belongs to Asuncion Jimenez, 78, one of three people the Vatican had chosen to have a personal meeting with Pope Francis.

“I feel so much. I don’t know what’s wrong with me,” Jimenez told CNN’s Rosa Flores. The mother of four and grandmother of 15 said she’s full of emotion and anticipation.

Jimenez planned to have a meal ready for the Pope when he arrived. On the menu was a Paraguayan soup and a cup of mate, a traditional South American tea.

The visit to Asuncion is the closest Francis has been to his own home since being elected in 2013.

His native Argentina sits on the other side of the Paraguay River, which forms part of the border between the countries. His last stop on Sunday afternoon, before returning to Rome, will take place just off the river’s banks.

About 200,000 young people are expected to attend that final event, which marks a symbolic end to his three-country tour by looking to the future with the region’s youth.