Trujillo (Peru) (AFP) – Pope Francis on Saturday condemned “organized crime” and prayed for flood victims during a giant open air mass at a beach in Trujillo, Peru’s crime-plagued largest northern coastal city.
Francis acknowledged the “insecurity” due to the high crime rate in the region, still struggling to rebuild after deadly devastating floods one year ago.
More than 130 people were killed across Peru between January and April 2017 in heavy rains, floods and landslides fueled by the El Nino weather phenomenon, which also left at least 300,000 homeless. Hardest-hit was Peru’s northern coastal region.
Francis acknowledged that many families still could not rebuild their homes after the floods, then warned of the “storms” of organized crime.
The high crime rate meant fewer educational and work opportunities, preventing young people “from building a future with dignity,” Francis said.
The mass was held on a swathe of beach in Huanchaco, a town in Trujillo some 560 kilometers (350 miles) north of Lima. Huanchaco is popular with surfers and known for its distinctive reed watercraft known as “caballitos de totora.”
Some 6,000 police officers were on duty guarding the area during the papal visit, while sailors aboard a Coast Guard vessel kept an sharp eye just offshore during the beachside mass.
The pope then visited Trujillo’s impoverished “Buenos Aires” neighborhood, which was especially hard hit by flooding last April.
He was then set to preside over a ceremony in the town square before some 35,000 followers and meet with clergy members.
As on Friday, Francis was accompanied by Peru’s president, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski.
On Sunday, Francis is scheduled to hold another beachside mass in Lima, which is covered in signs welcoming the pontiff.
– “Threatened” Amazon natives –
The visit is a change of pace after a politically charged first day in the Latin American country where the pope railed against “great business interests” for endangering the Amazon and its tribes.
On Friday, he had sounded a stark warning about the future of the rainforest and tribe members, saying they had “never been so threatened.”
Bare-chested tribesmen, their bodies painted and their heads crowned with colorful feathers, danced and sang for the pope when he arrived in the Peruvian city of Puerto Maldonado.
Thousands of indigenous people had traveled to meet the pontiff from throughout the Amazon basin region of Peru, Brazil and Bolivia.
Pope Francis, 81, arrived Thursday afternoon in Peru, the second and last leg of a week-long South American visit.
During the first part of his visit, in Chile, Francis highlighted the plight of vulnerable immigrants, offered an apology to victims of sexual abuse by Catholic priests, prayed with survivors of Augusto Pinochet’s brutal dictatorship, and called for protection of Chile’s persecuted indigenous communities.
Before his visit to Chile, the US-based NGO Bishop Accountability said that almost 80 members of the Roman Catholic clergy had been accused of sexually abusing children in Chile since 2000.
At the pope’s first public mass in Santiago on Tuesday he faced protests over the church’s handling of decades of sexual abuse.