Not less than 14 people have been bitten by snakes and had to be attended by medics during a Mass conducted by Pope Francis in the Paraguayan city of Asuncion, Al Jazeera has learnt.
The snakebites occurred despite authorities fumigating the muddy grounds of an air force base to protect more than one million pilgrims who attended Sunday’s Mass.
Al Jazeera’s Lucia Newman, reporting from the venue, said while no one died, the incidents highlighted the difficulties many of the pilgrims had to go through to attend the service.
“They came from all over Paraguay and tens of thousands from neighbouring Argentina, the pope’s home country, too,” she said.
“They were also at risk of getting dengue and other mosquito-borne diseases, which are especially common during the rainy season.”
Our correspondent said many people had spent the previous night at the venue to try to secure a good position to see Francis, who is from Argentina and the first Latin American to head the Roman Catholic Church.
“The pope’s personal appeal, especially here in his home continent, is undeniable,” our correspondent said.
“With every leg of his trip, Pope Francis added a new layer to his social gospel, to his defence of the poor, criticism of political intolerance and of a world economic order that he says creates widespread inequality .
“Here in Paraguay, where at least a million people turned out for his final Mass, the recurring theme was corruption, which he called the gangrene of society.”
Francis also asked for the forgiveness of his church “from those who don’t think the way we do”.
The pope on Sunday wrapped up his week-long tour to three of the poorest and smallest countries in South America; Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay.