Pope Francis Mixes His Messages in Latin America

Render unto Caesar.

Photographer: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP/Getty Images

With all its pageantry and scale, a papal visit is never just a Roman Catholic affair. Not least for Pope Francis, the politically adroit pontiff, who has used his global pulpit to broadcast all manner of messages, and not always to his audiences’ delight.

It was no different in Colombia, where even as Francis was enthusiastically welcomed for a five-day visit last week, his encomiums to tolerance and forgiveness fell on a divided country. Colombia, after all, is still roiled over last year’s peace agreement with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the insurgents who waged the longest war in the western hemisphere, which took more than 220,000 lives and displaced millions. Former President Alvaro Uribe called that agreement a “surrender” and slammed the government’s recent ceasefire with another rebel band, the ELN.

And so it has often been when Francis has landed in his native Latin America, home to Roman Catholicism’s largest and perhaps most politically demanding flock. Given the delicate path he has to walk, the politics of Francis’s homilies in his home region can sometimes be hard to parse.