ROME – Ahead of Pope Francis’s trip to Chile and Peru, the Archbishop of Lima has said that the Bishop of Rome will encounter a lively faith in the countries, where there is “great expression of popular religiosity.”
Cardinal Juan Luis Cipriani Thorne spoke to Catholic News Agency ahead of the Jan. 15-21, 2018 trip.
The cardinal is visiting Rome, and met with Francis on Monday for a conversation that largely focused on the pope’s upcoming visit to his country.
In his comments to CNA, the cardinal said Latin America, and Peru in particular, maintain a staunchly Christian culture where traditional values on marriage and family issues specifically are widely upheld.
Peru itself is a largely Catholic nation, and while traditional forms of marriage and family life are threatened by the same secular ideologies growing throughout the U.S. and many countries in Europe, the defense of marriage is much stronger.
The country is also traditional when it comes to the abortion issue, with roughly 89 percent of the population defending life, he said.
Because of this, Cipriani said he believes the pope’s visit is an opportunity for the world to look at Latin America and learn from their example of faith.
This faith is largely expressed in Peru through various and colorful forms of popular piety such as processions, vigils, and public prayer. Among the biggest of these are the processions on the feasts of Corpus Christi and the Lord of Miracles.
“The popular piety is going to move [Francis] a lot because he is going to see it in all corners” of the country, the cardinal said, explaining that this show of faith is part of the ‘cultural DNA’ in Peru, and will play a big role in the pope’s visit.
“I think that the Holy Father will meet the population with a great expression of popular religiosity that will be very near to his heart,” he said.
The visit to Peru, which holds the theme “United by Hope,” will also be key in terms of helping the Peruvian bishops’ conference become more unified, he said, noting the country is composed of a variety of backgrounds, which at times makes it difficult to be on the same page.
“The country is very diverse, geographically, ethnically, so the reality that the bishops have on the coast, in the mountains, or in the jungle is very different,” the cardinal said. With 50 bishops representing these different areas, trying to combine everything into one cohesive conference “isn’t easy.”
In Peru, there are dioceses that have 100,000 inhabitants, while others, such as Lima, have 10 million. Some are areas more advanced in terms of development while in other areas people live “in absolute poverty.”
With all this in mind, Cipriani said he believes the pope will encourage the Peruvian bishops “to say: ‘In seeking holiness you have to come together in a vision that brings Christ to all’.”
Another key theme of the trip, the cardinal said, will be the role of Peruvian saints, which the pope brought up in their meeting yesterday, and which he mentioned in a short video-message he released for the trip in August.
“In a few words he told me that Peru has many saints and great saints, and I think that this is something that moves me and that I hope will be developed in this trip,” the cardinal said.
Among the most well-known Peruvian saints are Rose of Lima, Martin de Porres, and and Toribio de Mogroviejo.
According to Cipriani, the pope’s favorite is Martin de Porres, who was the son of a Spanish nobleman and a black slave woman. The saint had wanted to enter the Dominican order, but was initially prevented from becoming a brother due to a law at the time that prevented people of mixed race from joining religious orders.
Instead, he lived with the community and did manual work, earning the nickname “the saint of the broom” for his diligence and care in cleaning the friars’ quarters. Eventually, he was permitted to join the order despite the law, and he worked with the sick in the infirmary.
On Martin de Porres, Francis says “he likes him more than anyone because of the broom, because he had to clean many things so that the Church was better,” Cipriani said.
Other big themes for the trip, the cardinal said, will be environmental issues, particularly related to the Amazon region, and the youth.
The highlight will be the pope’s visit to Puerto Maldonado, an area of the Amazon affected by extreme poverty and which has a wide variety of wildlife. During his visit there, Francis is going to see “a lot of poverty, a lot of (the) force of nature.”
When it comes to the nation’s youth, Cipriani said Francis is going to see a lot of young people “very excited for the coming of the pope.”
Francis’s visit, he said, is important above all because “the Vicar of Christ is coming … it’s a wonderful occasion in which God blesses the Peruvian people.”
Peru, he said, “needs the presence of a man that sows peace, unity and joy among us, and who strengthens us in the faith. Because of this we are awaiting him with enthusiasm.”
Above all, Peru will greet the pope with “great joy, with a lot of noise, with the streets full,” he said, adding that the pope “is going to have a great time.”
Alvaro de Juana contributed to this report.