SANTIAGO, Chile -- Pope Francis began the fourth day of his South American trip in northern Chile exhorting the faithful to be more tolerant of immigrants before flying on to Peru for the second leg of his journey, where his pastoral focus is expected to be on the environment and the rights of the indigenous.
He celebrated a Mass in Lobito Campus, a town a few miles south of Iquique, a northern port city that was once a booming mining town but is now better known for its beaches, earthquakes and as the gateway for a recent flood of immigrants to Chile. Francis noted that Iquique means "land of dreams" in the Aymara language.
"It is a land that has given shelter to men and women of different peoples and cultures who have had to leave everything behind and set out," Francis said before the crowd of faithful estimated at 100,000. "Let us be attentive to the lack of shelter, land and employment experienced by so many families."
Chile has accepted waves of immigrants in recent years, including tens of thousands of Venezuelans fleeing their troubled country and Haitians seeking better lives. The policy has created political controversy. A recent poll by CEP, a think tank in Santiago, indicated that 2 of every 5 Chileans believe the newcomers are the source of rising crime, a thesis that police say has no basis in fact.
President-elect Sebastian Pinera, who takes office in March, ran a campaign promising to take a tougher line on immigration than current President Michelle Bachelet, a reflection of the issue's sensitivity.
During the Thursday morning flight to Iquique from Santiago, the Chilean capital, the pope celebrated a marriage ceremony of two flight attendants, Carlos Ciuffardi and Paula Podest, in what news reports described as an unprecedented onboard event.
Upon deplaning in Iquique, the pope was asked by a journalist about Bishop Juan Barros of Osorno, a cleric whom Francis elevated but who has been accused of covering up the alleged sexual abuse of minors by Father Fernando Karadima, a diocesan priest condemned by the Vatican in 2011 to a life of "prayer and penitence."
"There is not a single proof against him," Francis said Thursday of Barros. "It's all a calumny."
In 2015, Francis defended Barros, saying that he recognized that "Osorno suffers, yes, but for being foolish, because they do not open their hearts to what God says, and instead get carried away by all this silliness that everyone speaks of."
One bit of drama occurred in Iquique when a mounted police officer was thrown from her horse after it was spooked by crowds cheering the pope. The papal motorcade paused and Francis got out of the popemobile to check on the officer. After five minutes, Francis continued his tour and there was no immediate indication from police that the officer suffered serious injuries.