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Pope's arrival in Cartagena off to bumpy start with black eye

Published:Sunday | September 10, 2017 | 12:00 AM
A bruised Pope Francis smiles during his visit to the Sanctuary of St Peter Claver, in Cartagena, Colombia, yesterday.

CARTAGENA, Colombia (AP):

Pope Francis wrapped up his Colombia trip with a deeply personal final day yesterday honouring St Peter Claver, a fellow Jesuit who ministered to hundreds of thousands of African slaves who arrived in the port of Cartagena to be sold during Spanish colonial times.

Francis' visit to Cartagena got off to a rocky start, however, when he banged his head on his popemobile when it stopped short amid swarms of well-wishers. Francis, who only had a hip-high bar to hold on to, lost his balance and suffered a bruised, black left eye and a cut on his eyebrow that dripped blood on to his white cassock.

The cut was quickly bandaged with a butterfly patch and Francis carried on without incident with his programme. Devotees reacted to the wound with a mix of amazement and concern.

"This holy blood is staying in Colombia," said Ricardo Morales, a lawyer who lined up outside St. Peter Claver's church for a glimpse of the pope. "He made a great effort to be here and from now on it's our obligation to make a similar effort to thank him for everything he has done."

Once recovered, Francis visited the St Peter Claver church, where he praised the 17th century missionary for having recognized the inherent dignity of slaves. Francis, known for his own simple and austere style, said Claver was "austere and charitable to the point of heroism".

Claver, the self-described "slave of the slaves forever," has been revered by Jesuits, popes and human rights campaigners for centuries for having insisted on treating slaves as children of God and worthy of love when others considered them mere merchandise to be bought and sold.

In a prayer yesterday in front of Claver's church, Francis said the legacy of the Spanish priest should serve as a model for the Catholic Church today to "promote the dignity of all our brothers and sisters, particularly the poor and the excluded of society, those who are abandoned, immigrants and those who suffer violence and human trafficking".