Vatican City, Holy See | AFP | Pope Francis visits Colombia next week on the latest in a series of emotionally charged trips to his home region of Latin America.
Here are five key challenges that the Argentine pope has confronted in a continent stricken by poverty and crime:
– Colombian peace –
Francis supported the contested peace deal that has seen FARC rebels disarm after a half-century war against the state. He visits Colombia from September 6 to 10.
“With this visit the pope is saying to the whole region that a cycle has come to an end,” said Gianni La Bella, a Latin America specialist in the San Egidio Catholic movement.
“That the armed conflict is over and no longer justified; that Christians choose the path of non-violence.”
– Venezuela crisis –
Francis has tried to help Colombia’s neighbor Venezuela find a way out of its deadly economic and political crisis.
The Vatican last year mediated in negotiations between the government and opposition but talks collapsed with the sides accusing each other of bad faith.
“In the Venezuela the situation is deadlocked. The Holy See’s efforts for dialogue failed,” said La Bella.
– Cuba transition –
Francis was one of the facilitators of the diplomatic rapprochement between Cuba and the United States in 2015.
But the Vatican has been silent on tensions between the two countries since Donald Trump took over as US president this year, threatening to tighten restrictions on Cuba and pressure it into political change.
“The Holy See is doing the same as Cuba: waiting to see whether Trump’s announcements turn into concrete measures before speaking about them,” said Luis Badilla, founder of the Vatican affairs website Il Sismografo.
– Mexico drug wars –
During a visit to Mexico in February 2016, Francis urged young Mexicans to “dare to dream” of a crime-free life in a region torn by violent drug gangs.
“I understand that often it is difficult to feel your value when you are continually exposed to the loss of friends or relatives at the hands of the drug trade, of drugs themselves, of criminal organizations that sow terror,” he said.
“It is a lie to believe that the only way to live, or to be young, is to entrust oneself to drug dealers or others who do nothing but sow destruction and death.”
– Poverty and corruption –
Badilla said Francis on his trip will also address issues such as inequality and violence as well as corruption in countries like Brazil, where a huge scandal has seen scores of politicians jailed.
In 2015 he visited three of the region’s poorest countries — Bolivia, Ecuador and Paraguay — and apologized for atrocities against indigenous people during the Spanish conquest.
“Peace is only possible if the causes of social injustice, inequality and oppression are tackled,” said Monsignor Octavio Ruiz, a member of the papal delegation, commenting on the Colombia trip.