WORLD

Pope Francis Suffers Minor Accident In Popemobile

The 80-year-old lost his balance and bumped his head during a procession in Colombia.

11/09/2017 7:57 AM AEST | Updated 11/09/2017 7:57 AM AEST

CARTAGENA, Colombia (Reuters) - Pope Francis, his eye bandaged after a minor accident in thepopemobile, wrapped up his trip to Colombia on Sunday appealing for an end to modern forms of slavery and denouncing political violence in neighboring Venezuela.

His last day in the Andean country got off to a rocky start when he lost his balance and bumped his head while riding in the popemobile. He bruised his cheekbone and cut his left eyebrow, blood staining his white cassock.

The Vatican said he received ice treatment and was fine.

A smiling pope continued the trip wearing a bandage over his cut. "I was punched. I'm fine," he joked afterwards, the bruises on his face clearly visible.

POOL New / Reuters
A few droplets of blood stain Pope Francis' white tunic.

The pope flew from Bogota to Cartagena, a top tourist destination famous for its colonial walled ramparts that was home to Saint Peter Claver, a Spanish priest who ministered to slaves in Colombia in the 1600s, defying Spanish colonial masters who treated them as chattel.

The pope used the occasion to again decry modern slavery and human trafficking and defend the rights of immigrants.

Human rights groups estimate that millions of people around the world are victims of human trafficking and forms of modern slavery such as forced labor and prostitution.

"Here in Colombia and in the world millions of people are still being sold as slaves; they either beg for some expressions of humanity, moments of tenderness, or they flee by sea or land because they have lost everything, primarily their dignity and their rights," he said just before praying before Claver's relics.

POOL New / Reuters
Pope Francis shows a bruise around his left eye and eyebrow caused by an accidental hit against the popemobile's window glass.

Some 300 Afro-Colombians who receive assistance from the Jesuit religious order, of which thepope is a member, prayed with him in the church.

Francis visited the impoverished neighborhood of San Francisco and blessed the cornerstone of a shelter for at-risk Afro-Colombian girls vulnerable to child prostitution, drugs and violence.

VENEZUELA APPEAL

Later, the first Latin American pope said he was praying for the wellbeing of all countries on the continent but particularly Venezuela, which has been caught up in a social and economic crisis.

"I express my closeness to all the sons and daughters of that beloved nation, as well as to all those who have found a place of welcome here in Colombia," referring to the tens of thousands of Venezuelans who have crossed the border to find food and medicine.

"From this city, known as the seat of human rights, I appeal for the rejection of all violence in political life and for a solution to the current grave crisis, which affects everyone, particularly the poorest and most disadvantaged of society," he said.

National Human Rights Day is celebrated in Colombia on Sept. 8, the day Claver died in 1654.

Stefano Rellandini / Reuters
Pope Francis greets people in a neighbourhood in Cartagena, Colombia.

Venezuela has been convulsed by months of near-daily protests against leftist President Nicolas Maduro, who critics say has plunged the oil-rich country into the worst economic crisis in its history and is turning it into a dictatorship.

Maduro has said that he is the victim of an "armed insurrection" and an "economic war" by U.S.-backed opponents seeking to gain control of the OPEC member's oil reserves.

World bodies and foreign governments have expressed concern about the shortage of food and medicine in Venezuela and called for political dialogue between Maduro and the opposition. Church leaders in Venezuela have made a series of highly critical speeches since late last year.

Francis used the trip to urge Colombians deeply polarized by a peace plan to shun vengeance after a bloody 50-year civil war. But he also said leaders had to enact laws to end injustice and social inequality that breeds violence.

That kind of social imbalance is evident in Cartagena.

Stringer . / Reuters
Pope Francis greets faithfuls.

Its narrow cobbled streets and well-preserved church squares attract millions of visitors every year, the economic fruits of which barely touch the lives of the city's poor.

Around the city of under a million people, hundreds of thousands, many displaced by Colombia's civil war, live in makeshift wooden shacks in slums with open sewers and no running water.

The walled city is now the preserve of tourists and luxury hotels, where the poor sell trinkets, coconuts and tropical fruits.

(By Philip Pullella and Noe Torres; Additional reporting by Helen Murphy and Anastasia Moloney in Bogota; Editing by Helen Murphy and Mary Milliken)

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