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Pope's visit to Cartagena to highlight inequality in Latin America


  • The likeness of St. Peter Claver is seen in stained glass at St. Mary's Cathedral in Peoria, Ill. Canonized in 1888, St. Peter Claver is now considered the patron saint of human rights in Colombia. (CNS photo/The Crosiers)
  • A woman of African descent is seen during Afro-Colombian Day in Cali, Colombia, May 21, 2016. (CNS photo/Christian Escobar Mora, EPA)
  • Kevin, second from right, poses with his family in Cali, Colombia, in this 2015 file photo. His community is surrounded by sugar cane plantations, agriculture and fishing, but he would rather like to study medicine. Pope Francis' September visit to Colombia will highlight the inequality in Latin America, which has some of the highest income disparities in the world. (CNS photo/courtesy Unbound.org)
  • Yira, a young woman from Cartagena, Colombia, is seen in this 2015 file photo. She said there are few opportunities in her community and that "many youth go to school with no breakfast or a lunch bag, and face drugs, violence, robbery." Pope Francis' September visit to Colombia will highlight the inequality in Latin America which has some of the highest income disparities in the world. (CNS photo/courtesy Unbound.org)
  • A father and daughter walk near Cartagena, Colombia, in this 2015 file photo. Pope Francis' September visit to Colombia will highlight the inequality in Latin America, which has some of the highest income disparities in the world. (CNS photo/courtesy Unbound.org)
  • A young Afro-Colombian sings at a party in Cali, Colombia, in this 2015 file photo. Pope Francis' September visit to Colombia will highlight the inequality in Latin America, which has some of the highest income disparities in the world. (CNS photo/courtesy Unbound.org)

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LIMA, Peru (CNS) -- When Pope Francis visits Colombia in September, he will take his message of mercy and reconciliation to Cartagena, a city that still bears scars of its painful history as a slave port. And he will walk the streets where another Jesuit, St. Peter Claver, put that message into practice four centuries ago.

Canonized in 1888, St. Peter Claver is now considered the patron saint of human rights in Colombia. But although the country abolished slavery in 1851 and passed a law prohibiting discrimination in 1993, racism persists.

Many Afro-Colombians in Cartagena, the "children of children of children of slaves ... often remain marginalized, abandoned by the government," said Father Jorge Hernandez, who works with Afro-Colombian communities in and around the city. "In some neighborhoods, people don't have running water. Inhumanity has become natural."

The same is true in other Latin American countries. Although about half the population of Brazil is of African descent, Afro-Brazilians make up a disproportionate share of the poor population, according to the 2010 census. Their salaries averaged one-half to one-third those of white Brazilians.

On his last day in Colombia, Sept. 10, Pope Francis will pray the Angelus outside of the sanctuary of St. Peter Claver. The building where the missionary welcomed slaves, and which now houses the saint's relics, has also served as a school and a hospital.

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