Speaking to Peruvian authorities Friday, Pope Francis issued a stern warning against corruption, which he said has done significant harm, and snuffs out the hope offered by the country's rich cultural and natural diversity.
“Peru is a land of hope that invites and challenges its people to unity,” the Pope said Jan. 19. However, he warned that despite the promise of the country's many saints and the rich cultural and environmental diversity, “over this hope a shadow is growing, a threat looms.”
He warned against the destruction of natural resources and urged authorities to be “very attentive to that other, often subtle form of environmental degradation that increasingly contaminates the whole system of life: corruption.”
“How much evil is done to our Latin American people and the democracies of this continent by this social 'virus', a phenomenon that infects everything, with the greatest harm being done to the poor and mother earth.”
Pope Francis spoke to Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski Godard and the country's diplomatic corps. He spent the morning in Peru's Amazonian region, visiting Puerto Maldonado before heading back to Lima for his meeting with civil authorities.
He will be in Peru until Jan. 21, following a three-day visit to Chile, marking his fourth tour of South America since his election.
The Pope's visit comes after Kuczynski narrowly escaped an impeachment vote in December following revelations that a company he owned had businesses ties with the Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht, which is at the center of of one of Latin America's biggest corruption scandals.
Odebrecht admitted in a 2016 plea bargain with the U.S. Department of Justice to paying around $800 million in bribes in 12 Latin American countries, the Guardian reports. Peru received some $29 million between 2009 and 2015.
Kuczynski is the latest Peruvian politician to get caught up in a scandal of this kind, with some former presidents currently sitting behind bars. The latest ex-president to be jailed was Ollanta Humala, who went to prison in July 2017 due to alleged money laundering in connection with Odebrecht.
In his speech, Pope Francis said efforts to fight the “social scourge” of corruption must be both recognized and supported, which is a task that involves everyone.
Hope must be defended, he said, which “requires a greater culture of transparency among public entities, the private sector and civil society. No one can be excluded from this process. Corruption is preventable and calls for commitment on the part of all.”
“I encourage and urge all those in positions of authority, in whatever sphere, to insist on this path in order to bring your people and your land the security born of feeling that Peru is a place of hope and opportunity for all, and not just for a few,” he said.
Francis praised the natural beauty and the vast biodiversity found in the country's Amazonian region, which contains the largest tropical forest and the most extensive river system on the planet. He also drew attention to the many cultures present in Peru, which he said are the “soul of this people.”
He also noted that the country has a lot of young people, who are “the most vital gift that this society possesses,” and many saints, who have “blazed paths of faith for the entire American continent.”
Pointing to the theme of his trip, “United in Hope,” the Pope said Peru is a land of hope that invites its inhabitants to a unique unity, which he said is threatened not only by corruption, but also by environmental destruction.
Quoting his 2015 encyclical on care for our common home, Laudato si', he said “never has humanity had such power over itself, yet nothing ensures that it will be used wisely, particularly when we consider how it is currently being used.”
“This is evident in the way that we are stripping the earth of its natural resources, without which no forms of life are possible,” he said, adding that the loss of jungles and forests means not only a loss of species and resources for the future, but also a loss of “vital relationships that could end up altering the entire ecosystem.”
To be united in hope, then, means both developing and promoting an integral ecology and listening to local populations and recognizing and respecting them as true partners in dialogue, since they know the land and the “the catastrophic effects produced, in the name of development, by many projects.”
Francis said environmental degradation is also linked to the moral degradation of communities, and pointed to black market mining as a practice which is “is destroying people’s lives.”
“This whole process of degradation brings with it and encourages organizations operating outside of legal structures; these debase so many of our brothers and sisters by subjecting them to human trafficking (a new form of slavery), irregular employment and crime … and to other evils that gravely affect their dignity and, at the same time, the dignity of the nation.”
Pope Francis closed his speech urging all those in positions of authority in every sphere “to bring your people and your land the security born of feeling that Peru is a place of hope and opportunity for all, and not just for a few.”
By doing this, a new Peru will be forged which “makes room for people of 'all bloods', a land in which 'the promise of Peruvian life' can be achieved,” he said, quoting from the Peruvian novelist José Maria Arguedas and the historian Jorge Basadre.
“I wish to renew in your presence the commitment of the Catholic Church, which has accompanied the life of this nation, in this joint effort to continue working so that Peru will continue to be a land of hope,” he concluded.
The Pope met privately with Kuczynski following his address.