Pedestrians walk around San Francisco square, where an image of Pope Francis is displayed in La Paz on June 30, 2015. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/David Mercado
*Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-LATIN-TRIP, originally transmitted on July 2, 2015.

Pope leaves Sunday for Latin America ‘homecoming’ trip

VATICAN CITY (RNS) Pope Francis will depart Sunday (July 5) on a much-anticipated trip to Latin America, seen as a homecoming for the Argentine pontiff and likely to draw attention to key challenges in the region. Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio shocked the world in 2013 when he became the first Latin American to be elected pope. More than two years later, the former archbishop of Buenos Aires continues to surprise Vatican watchers with his ambitious reform agenda and lively personality. Francis has not only brought new life to the Catholic Church but has also weighed heavily into Latin American politics by brokering a deal that saw U.S.-Cuba relations renewed after more than 50 years. While the pope’s diplomatic efforts will be celebrated during his September visit to both those countries, his imminent Latin America trip will see him address important social issues in the three countries he visits.

Pope to find challenges, opportunities in Cuba

VATICAN CITY (RNS) The 13 Cubans who occupied a church in Central Havana left after being assured they wouldn't be detained by police, and the incident shows the challenges that Pope Benedict XVI will find in Cuba this weekend. By Alessandro Speciale.