PANAMA CITY (AP) — Pope Francis insisted Thursday that public officials live simply, honestly and transparently as he opened a visit to a Central American region that has been rife with corruption scandals and is now coping with political upheaval in nearby Venezuela.
Francis didn't mention the Venezuela crisis during his first remarks in Panama after a meeting with President Juan Carlos Varela at the presidential palace. But his spokesman said he was following the situation closely, was praying for the Venezuelan people and supported "all efforts that help save the population from further suffering."
Francis stuck to his script in Panama, celebrating the country's place as bridge between oceans and cultures and holding up the region's newest saint, slain Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero, as a model for a humble church that accompanies the poor.
He thanked the Panamanian government for "opening the doors of your home" to young pilgrims who have flocked here for World Youth Day, the Catholic Church's big youth rally and the reason for his visit.
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Panama's President Juan Carlos Varela, Pope Francis and first lady Lorena Castillo, wave from the entrance of the presidential palace Thursday in Panama City.
Flanked by Panama's President Juan Carlos Varela, right, and first lady Lorena Castillo, Pope Francis arrives Thursday at the foreign ministry headquarters Palacio Bolivar in Panama City.
People ready their phones as Pope Francis rides past Thursday in Panama City.
A woman holds a dog as she waits with others curbside to get a glimpse of Pope Francis as he rides past in his motorcade Thursday in Panama City.
Pope Francis arrives for the World Youth Day welcoming ceremony Thursday at Campo Santa Maria La Antigua in Panama City.
Faithful wait for Pope Francis' arrival for a ceremony that opens the world youth day Thursday at Campo Santa Maria La Antigua in Panama City.
Pope Francis waves to the crowd as he rides in the popemobile to attend a mass Thursday in Panama City.
A shaved ice vendor pushes his cart past police providing security during a visit by Pope Francis in the Casco Viejo neighborhood of Panama City on Thursday.