Pope Francis, a champion of the poor and social justice, on Thursday called on a million faithful to reject today's consumer society, at an open-air mass in Bolivia. On the second stop of his three-nation tour of South America, the pope addressed the throng in the vast Christ the Redeemer Plaza in Santa Cruz, including many people who camped out overnight to see him.
He denounced what he called a mentality in which everything has a price, everything can be bought, everything is negotiable. This way of thinking has room only for a select few.
Jesus speaks these words to us, here in this square. No one has to be discarded, the pontiff told the crowd, estimated by Bolivian authorities at one million strong.
Society cannot ignore people, the pope said, no matter how little they possess or seem capable of contributing.
The two-hour service featured religious hymns and chants. Hundreds of musicians also played Baroque works, introduced by Spanish Jesuit missionaries in the 18th century and still very popular in this country.
Thousands in the crowd were from Bolivia's indigenous majority: Quechua, Guarani and Aymara Indians. Ten of thousands Argentines from the northern provinces also attended. President Evo Morales, the country's first indigenous leader, was in the front row.
Around the plaza, dominated by the giant bronze Christ the Redeemer statue, big-screen TVs were erected for people to watch the religious service.
Since his election in 2013, Francis, who hails from Argentina and is also the first Jesuit pope, has indeed shown himself to have a down-to-earth air about him, and that is ringing clear in Santa Cruz.
Many people spent the night in the plaza to get a spot for mass and a good view of the pontiff. The weather was unseasonably chilly, but was expected to warm as the day progressed.
Other highlights of the pope's visit to Bolivia include a visit Friday to an atrociously overcrowded prison where small children live with their parents, and a meeting with civic groups representing landless farmers, people working in the underground economy and activists opposed to globalization.
Francis arrived in Bolivia on Wednesday evening in the high-altitude Andean city of La Paz -- more than 4,000 meters above sea level. Concerned authorities had extra oxygen tanks on hand for the pope, who lost a lung during his youth, but he was not seen using it.
He will head on Friday to Paraguay, the last stop on his tour of South America, which began in Ecuador.