Inside Pope Francis's South American Trip

Katie Couric
Global Anchor

By Sarah B. Boxer

Pope Francis arrived in La Paz, Bolivia, this afternoon, continuing a Latin American tour filled with supporters, sermons, selfies — and a touch of controversy.

While the pope will be in Bolivia until Friday, he was only scheduled to be in La Paz, its capital, for a few hours. The decision was made, in part, because of the city’s high altitude. Pope Francis only has one lung, a result of a lung infection suffered as a teenager.

Univision correspondent Maria Antonieta Collins, who has been traveling with the pope, told Yahoo News Global Anchor Katie Couric that controversy had been brewing over whether or not Pope Francis would chew on coca leaves, a popular local remedy for curing altitude sickness – and also the primary substance used to make cocaine, which is legal in Bolivia. Many questioned if Pope Francis would partake, but he did reportedly drink a tea containing coca leaves, chamomile flowers and anise leaves on the plane to La Paz. 

“It’s a political thing,” Collins told Couric before the pontiff elected to drink the beverage. “If the pope says, OK, I’ll chew coca leaves, [people] are going to say, ‘Hey, it’s a good ingredient,’ while these coca leaves are the main ingredient of cocaine.”

Bolivia is the second stop on the pope’s three-country swing through Latin America.  He arrived in Ecuador on Sunday and heads to Paraguay next. According to the Pew Research Center, Latin America is home to over 425 million Catholics — almost 40 percent of the world’s total Catholic population.

Pope Francis is not traveling to his home country of Argentina. Collins says this is, in part, because the country is in the heat of presidential elections and the pope does not want to seem partisan.

She says the decision was also made because the pope is so beloved there that he would need a big block of time to return home. “He knows that Argentina needs at least, at least, a full week with him running all over the country to see his beloved people,” she says. Collins tells Couric that he is likely to visit Argentina next year.

See the complete interview here: