ASUNCION, Paraguay (AP) -- Pope Francis put into practice his insistence that the world's poor not be left on the margins of society by visiting a flood-prone slum outside Asuncion on Sunday to offer residents a word of encouragement on the final day of his three-country South American tour.
Francis drew cheers when he opened his remarks by saying he couldn't have left Paraguay without visiting Banado Norte, "without being on YOUR land."
Many residents of Banado Norte are squatters on municipal land who have come from rural areas in the northeastern part of the country where farmland has been increasingly bought up by Brazilians and multi-national companies. Residents argue they should be given title to the land because they have worked to make it habitable with little help from the city.
"We built our neighborhoods piece by piece, we made them livable despite the difficulties of the terrain, the rising of the river and despite public authorities who either ignored us or were hostile to us," resident Maria Garcia told the pope.
Francis has referred frequently during his week-long trip tour of South America to the plight of the region's landless poor, encouraging them to work together.
On Sunday, he said he wanted to visit Banado Norte, a neighborhood of shacks of plywood and corrugated metal on the banks of the River Paraguay, to encourage their faith despite the difficulties they encounter. In addition to the lack of services, heavy rains regularly burst the Paraguay River banks and turn Banado Norte's dirt roads into impassable pools of mud.
Francis said he wanted "to see your faces, your children, your elderly, and to hear about your experiences and everything you went through to be here, to have a dignified life and a roof over your heads, to endure the bad weather and the flooding of these last few weeks."
Some of the estimated 100,000 residents shrieked as Francis walked by, reaching out to touch his white cassock and snap a photo with their cellphones.
"Now I can die peacefully," said Francisca de Chamorra, an 82-year-old widow who moved to the shanty in 1952. "It's a miracle that a pope has come to this muddy place."
Francis has spent much of the past week — and before that much of his pontificate — railing about the injustices of the global capitalist system that he says idolizes money over people, demanding instead a new economic model where the Earth's resources are distributed equally among all.
"Putting bread on the table, putting a roof over the heads of one's children, giving them health and an education - these are essential for human dignity, and business men and women, politicians, economists, must feel challenged in this regard," Francis told a gathering of business leaders, politicians, labor union leaders and other civil society groups on Saturday evening. "I ask them not to yield to an economic model which is idolatrous, which needs to sacrifice human lives on the altar of money and profit."
After touring Banado Norte, Francis celebrates an open-air Mass in a tropical field outside Asuncion and meets with young people before returning to Rome.