In land of Pachamama, Bolivians hope for pope of 'good intentions'

Sun Jul 5, 2015 11:03am EDT
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By Sarah Marsh

EL ALTO, Bolivia (Reuters) - At a "Witches Market" in the Bolivian city of El Alto, dried llama fetuses said to bring good fortune hang outside tin shack stalls while healers read the future in coca leaves and call on ancient spirits to cure ills.

When Pope Francis visits Bolivia next week, he will discover a nation that cherishes animal sacrifices and pagan worship and where relations between indigenous communities and the Roman Catholic Church have been strained. The country's first indigenous president, Evo Morales, has frequently clashed with the church.

"I hope he comes with good intentions and not with the same thinking as in times past," said Luisa Quispe, 60, a self-described witch in El Alto, a satellite city perched above the capital La Paz.

"We want respect for our culture."

Francis sets out on Sunday for Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay, three of South America's smallest and most impoverished nations, taking with him a message of solidarity for the downtrodden.

Church leaders in Bolivia are calling the visit "Reconciliation and Renewal". The Argentina-born pontiff, the first Latin American pope, will seek to heal rifts between the country's indigenous people and the descendants of its Spanish colonial conquerors, who brought the Catholic faith to Bolivia. Three in every four people in the country of 10.6 million are Catholic.

Quispe's stall is one of dozens along a dirt track where small stoves burning offerings to Pachamama, or Mother Earth, fill the air with scented smoke and women wearing bowler hats and colorful shawls line up for medicinal cures.

A large white statue of Christ overlooking the urban sprawl towers high at the end of the street.   Continued...

A street vendor sells candies and cigarettes in the centre of  La Paz, July 1, 2015. REUTERS/David Mercado