Pope Francis makes his way to the Shrine of Our Lord of the Miracles to attend a mid-morning prayer with contemplative nuns, in Lima, Peru, Sunday, Jan. 21, 2018. Francis is wrapping up the most contested, violent trip of his papacy Sunday with a series of meetings with Peruvian church leaders and a final Mass at an air base in Peru's capital. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

The Latest: Pope urges Congo authorities to avoid violence

January 21, 2018 - 12:28 pm

LIMA, Peru (AP) — The Latest on Pope Francis' visit to Peru (all times local):

12:30 p.m.

Pope Francis is demanding that Congo authorities do everything in their power to avoid violence amid deadly anti-government demonstrations.

Francis made the appeal from the Peruvian capital, where he led thousands of young people in prayer.

He said of Congo: "I ask the authorities and those responsible and all those in this beloved country that they use maximum commitment and effort to avoid all forms of violence and look for solutions in favor of the common good."

Congolese police used tear gas and gunfire to disperse thousands of demonstrators Sunday in clashes that left five people dead and injured more than 33. The protesters had marched after church services calling for President Joseph Kabila to step down.

The United States and others have condemned Congolese security forces' response to the protests at more than 160 churches, which included tear gas being fired inside and altar boys being arrested.

Kabila, whose mandate ended in December 2016, had agreed to hold an election by the end of 2017. But Congo's election commission later said the vote could be held until December 2018.

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12:15 p.m.

Pope Francis says the sprawling Odebrecht bribery scandal that has rippled across Latin America is "just a small anecdote" in a scourge of corruption throughout the region.

Francis said Sunday in remarks to bishops in Peru that politics in much of Latin America is in a state of "crisis" because of graft.

It is the second time he has addressed corruption during his visit to Peru, one of the countries embroiled in the Odebrecht scandal.

President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski narrowly escaped impeachment over his ties to the Brazilian construction giant in December. Two former presidents are accused of accepting bribes, and a third is under investigation.

Odebrecht had admitted to paying hundreds of millions of dollars in bribes to politicians throughout the region in exchange for lucrative public works contracts.

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9:45 a.m.

The controversy over Pope Francis' accusations of slander against victims of Chile's most notorious pedophile priest has followed him to Peru.

A banner hanging from a building near the Lima church where Francis prayed on Sunday read "Francis, here there is proof" and featured a photo of the disgraced founder of a Peru-based Catholic lay movement, Sodalitium Christianae Vitae.

The Vatican last week took over the movement after Peruvian prosecutors announced they wanted to arrest the founder, Luis Figari. An independent investigation found Figari sodomized recruits and forced them to fondle him and one another, liked to watch them "experience pain, discomfort and fear," and humiliated them in front of others.

In Chile, Francis accused victims of the country's most notorious sexual abuser, the Rev. Fernando Karadima, of slandering another bishop by saying he knew of Karadima's abuse but did nothing. Francis said there was "not one shred of proof" implicating the bishop and that the accusations against him were "calumny."

The comments caused such an outcry that Francis' top sexual abuse adviser issued a highly unusual public rebuke of the pope.

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9:30 a.m.

Pope Francis has had a special group of visitors call on him at the Vatican's residence in Peru: four prisoners who were released for a brief spell to greet him.

Vatican spokesman Greg Burke said the three men and one woman came from prisons in Arequipa, Ayacucho, Cuzco and Castro.

The greeting took place before Francis presided over a morning prayer Sunday with hundreds of contemplative and cloistered nuns at the Lord of Miracles sanctuary, which features an icon of Christ that survived a devastating earthquake in 1655 and is revered by many Peruvians.

Francis urged them to dedicate their prayers to those who are "thrown away" by society, including prisoners, migrants and drug addicts.

He told them: "By your prayers you can heal the wounds of many."

Francis frequently meets with prisoners during his foreign trips and visited a women's prison in Santiago, Chile on his seven-day trip to that country and Peru. He uses the meetings to encourage those deprived of their freedom to not lose hope.

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