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Pope in Chile: This land surrounded by the driest desert knows how to put on party clothes

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Iquique (AsiaNews) – Pope Francis celebrated a Mass in honour of Nuestra Señora del Carmen, Our Lady of Carmel, Mother and Queen of Chile, at Campus ‎Lobito in Iquique, a city in northern Chile between arid mountains on one side and the ocean on the other.

The pontiff also dedicated the Eucharist, his last in Chile, to the “integration of peoples, in “This land, surrounded by the driest desert of the world, [which] manages to put on party clothes”.

The altar, with its back to the ocean, was decorated with colourful statues and bright flowers, as well as the statue of the Virgen de la Tirana, the Virgin Mary de la Tirana.

Iquique is in a desert area and has the lowest rainfall in the world, lower than the Sahara Desert. But, as the local bishop Mgr Guillermo Patricio Vera Soto put it, it is “a desert full of life”. Its people are full of festive traditions, which Pope Francis praised as a sign of the joy of the Gospel.

“I have come,” Francis said, “as a pilgrim to join you in celebrating this beautiful way of living the faith. Your patronal feasts, your religious dances – which at times go on for a week – your music, your dress, all make this region a shrine of popular piety. Because the party does not remain inside the Church, but you turn the whole town into a party.

Inspired by the Gospel reading for the Mass, that of the wedding at Cana (Jn 2: 1-11), the Holy Father stressed the danger that every festival may be “watered down” because of the lack of wine, but also noted that the Gospel can show us “how Mary acts to make that joy continue.”

“Mary does not stand still. She goes up to the servants and says to them: “Do whatever he tells you” (Jn 2:5). Mary, a woman of few but very pointed words, also comes up to each of us and says simply: ‘Do whatever he tells you”. In this way, she elicits the first miracle of Jesus: to make his friends feel that they too are part of the miracle. Because Christ “came to this world not to perform a task by himself, but with all of us, so as to be the head of a great body, of which we are the living, free and active cells’.”

The pontiff noted that Iquique means “land of dreams” in the local language (Aymara), and that people always emigrate “with their bags packed with fear and uncertainty about the future”. Yet, Iquique, with its copper mines and free trade zone, has attracted immigrants, “entire families, who, in the face of adversity, refused to give up and set out in search of life.”

“This land is a land of dreams, but let us work to ensure that it also continues to be a land of hospitality. A festive hospitality, for we know very well that there is no Christian joy when doors are closed; there is no Christian joy when others are made to feel unwanted, when there is no room for them in our midst (cf. Lk 16:19-31).

“Like Mary at Cana, let us make an effort to be more attentive in our squares and towns, to notice those whose lives have been “watered down”, who have lost – or have been robbed of – reasons for celebrating. And let us not be afraid to raise our voices and say: “They have no wine”. The cry of the people of God, the cry of the poor, is a kind of prayer; it opens our hearts and teaches us to be attentive. Let us be attentive, then, to all situations of injustice and to new forms of exploitation that risk making so many of our brothers and sisters miss the joy of the party. Let us be attentive to the lack of steady employment, which destroys lives and homes. Let us be attentive to those who profit from the irregular status of many immigrants who don’t know the language or who don’t have their papers “in order”. Let us be attentive to the lack of shelter, land and employment experienced by so many families. And, like Mary, let us say with faith: They have no wine.”

“And let us allow Jesus to complete the miracle by turning our communities and our hearts into living signs of his presence, which is joyful and festive because we have experienced that God is with us, because we have learned to make room for him in our midst. A contagious joy and festivity that lead us to exclude one from the proclamation of this Good News.”

After the homily, Francis crowned the statue of the Virgen de la Tirana amid songs and dances. At the end of the Eucharist, before leaving for Peru, the pope said goodbye to the faithful and to Chile, which he described as “a country that finds its beauty in the varied faces of its peoples”.

Bishop Vera Soto gave the pontiff an enamelled crosier, made by local craftsman, and a cross made of salt crystals. Francis thanked him and said: “What can I wish you more than to end my visit by telling the Lord: Look at the faith of these people and give them unity and peace. I thank you, and please, don’t forget to pray for me.”

During the Mass reports began circulating that during the journey from Santiago de Chile to Iquique, the pontiff married two flight attendants, Carlos Ciuffati and Paula Podest (picture 2).

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