VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope Francis will visit one of Latin America’s most violent prisons during his trip to the continent of his birth in July, the Vatican said on Friday.
A program for the July 6-13 visit to Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay showed that Francis will enter the notorious Palmasola prison in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, on July 10, his last day in the country.
The sprawling maximum-security complex outside Bolivia’s biggest city has often been the scene of violent and deadly clashes between inmates.
About 30 people, including one of the children who live intermingled with their inmate parents, were killed there in 2013. Most of them were burned to death in clashes between gangs controlling sectors of the prison.
Since he became leader of the 1.2 billion-member Roman Catholic Church, Francis has continued the practice of visiting prisons that he began when he was archbishop of Buenos Aires. He has visited at least three prisons in Italy.
Francis will visit Quito and Guayaquil in Ecuador, La Paz and Santa Cruz in Bolivia, and Asuncion in Paraguay.
The trip to Latin American, his second as pope, will give him a chance to emphasize his defense of the poor and his calls for social justice on his native continent.
Speaking out in defense of the poor and downtrodden has been a major plank of Francis’s papacy. He has called for a re-distribution of wealth and highlighted how issues such as climate change affect poorest countries most.
This year, he is due to make trips to Bosnia in June, Cuba and the United States in September and several African countries toward the end of the year.
Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Alison Williams