Pope Francis has arrived in Peru, where President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski has appealed to the pontiff to help put the country back on track after a political crisis nearly ousted him from office a month ago.
The Argentine pope landed in the capital Lima from neighboring Chile on Thursday afternoon, the second part of his visit to the two South American nations, where he has sought to restore the Church's credibility after sex abuse allegations.
Kuczynski has called for Francis to bring the country together following an outcry over his pardon of former dictator Alberto Fujimori, whom he freed from prison on Christmas Eve after narrowly surviving an impeachment bid over a graft scandal, Reuters reports.
"I hope the visit by Pope Francis puts us once more on the path to peace and dialogue," Kuczynski said on Twitter before the pope's arrival.
Before departing Chile, Pope Francis said it is not Christian to shut out immigrants, urging nations to welcome people whose lives had been "watered down" by poverty, injustice and exploitation. Defense of migrants and refugees has been a key theme of his nearly five-year pontificate.
"There is no Christian joy when doors are closed; there is no Christian joy when others are made to feel unwanted, when there is no room for them in our midst," he said in the homily of Mass on a beach in Iquique, in Chile's far north.
"The cry of the poor is a kind of a prayer; it opens our hearts and teaches us to be attentive," he said from an enormous white stage framed by dune-like desert mountains on one side and the hazy blue of the Pacific Ocean on the other.
The pope has stepped up his defense of immigrants in recent months as migration has become a hot political issue in many countries.
Francis urged his listeners to be attentive to "all situations of injustice and to new forms of exploitation" including by those who profit from immigrants' problems, such as lack of documentation.
The trials and difficulties of immigrants trying to keep their families together had left many feeling like "their lives had been watered down," he said as 50,000 people faced the stage and the ocean.
Wave of Arrivals
Chile has had much less immigration than other South American nations, but a stable economy and moderate politics since the end of the Pinochet dictatorship in 1990 have made it more attractive to those fleeing economic hardship elsewhere in Latin America.
A wave of recent arrivals from Haiti and Venezuela has increasingly stoked anti-immigrant sentiment in Chile, one of the most atheistic nations in Latin America.
The region around Iquique, which means "dreams" in the local indigenous Aymara language, has the country's highest percentage of migrants, according to official statistics.
People from neighboring Peru, Argentina, Ecuador and Bolivia have been attracted to Chile's northern desert region, home to the majority of mines and a booming service and construction industry in the world's biggest copper exporter.
But many who arrive seeking their fortunes have instead found poverty and exclusion.
"There are many immigrants here who don't have work, who live with very little, in rooms like animals," said Dora Reyes, a Peruvian shopkeeper who moved to Chile two decades ago. "There is still a lot of racism and inequality."
Although immigration remains proportionally low compared with most developed countries, it has grown fivefold over the last 30 years, statistics from the government's immigration service show.
Arrivals from Haiti surged 144 percent in 2015, while those from Venezuela soared 192 percent.