ASUNCION, Paraguay - On the last day of his pilgrimage to South America, Pope Francis visited one of the poorest neighborhoods in one of the poorest countries of his native continent.
The Banado Norte shantytown lies on the outskirts of Asuncion, the capital of Paraguay. Because of its location on the Paraguay River, it's frequently overcome with floods -- the name "Banado" means wetlands. Settled 50 years ago, 15,000 families live there, most of them surviving by picking through garbage and reselling it. Only 1 out of 10 residents has a regular job.
Because of its location between Asuncion and the Paraguay River, the land on which the shantytown sits has recently become valuable real estate, and residents fear that unless the government steps in to protect them, they could be forced out.
When Pope Francis arrived, he stopped to mingle with the residents, shake hands, and hug them. Two women told him their stories. One said: "We feel like the lepers in the gospel. We've been rejected until now that they've decided our land is very valuable."
The pope told the residents: "I could not come to Paraguay without spending time with you here on YOUR land," emphasizing the "your."
"I want to be your neighbor," he said.
Pope Francis then told the gathered residents that their faith would bring them the solidarity that would see them through.
"A faith without solidarity is a sick faith, a dead faith," the pontiff said. "Be neighbors, above all to the young and elderly. Be a support for young families and all families who are experiencing difficulties."
After Banado Norte, the pope went on to celebrate mass in Asuncion with close to a million people, some from his native Argentina just across the border from Paraguay. Entire families camped out the night before in the field where the mass was held, spreading plastic sheets on the deep mud to stay dry. Many covered their feet with plastic bags, others gave up altogether and went shoeless.
The pope's last scheduled event before heading back to Rome is a meeting with hundreds of thousands of youth, presumably to send a last message of hope for the future of this country, and the continent.