Pope Francis's homecoming tour of South America has moved to Bolivia for the second leg of his regional tour, where he has urged the world to take better care of the environment and the poor.

Bolivia's leftist President Evo Morales was at El Alto's airport to welcome the pontiff, who praised Bolivia for taking "important steps" to include the poor and marginalised in the political and economic life of the country.

Morales hugged the pope as he descended from the Boliviana de Aviacion plane on Wednesday and hung a pouch around his neck, woven of alpaca with indigenous trimmings.

It is of the type commonly used to hold coca leaves, which are chewed by people in the Andes to alleviate altitude sickness. It was not known if Francis chewed any leaves, though he was served mate tea made with coca leaves, chamomile and annis on the plane from Quito, Ecuador.

"Brother Pope Francis, you come filled with energy after coming from Ecuador's Pacific breeze. You have arrived to a land of peace that seeks justice. Welcome to a part of a large country, which seeks access to the sea," Morales said.

"Brother Pope, in many historic moments, the Church was used for domination, for subversion and for oppression. Now the Bolivian people are welcoming you with happiness and hope. We welcome you as the top representative of the Catholic Church who comes to Bolivia to support the freedom of our people," he said.

Cultural and ethnic diversity

La Paz stands at 4,000 meters above sea level, and the Vatican decided to keep the pope's stay to just four hours to limit any problems for the 78-year-old pontiff, who has only one full lung.

Brother Pope, in many historic moments, the Church was used for domination, for subversion and for oppression. Now the Bolivian people are welcoming you with happiness and hope.

Evo Morales, Bolivian president

The pope praised Bolivia's rich cultural and ethnic diversity shortly after touching down in El Alto.

"Above all, it is a land blessed in its people - with its true cultural reality and ethnicity which constitutes a great richness and permanent call for mutual respect, dialogue," said the pontiff.

"Indigenous people, and contemporary indigenous people. How much happiness does it give us that castellano, brought to these lands today lives with 36 original languages? Uniting like the national flowers, the red and the yellow, to give beauty and unity in diversity," he said.

The pope will say a Mass in Santa Cruz in eastern Bolivia on Thursday and the next day is scheduled to visit the notoriously violent Palmasola prison.

Bolivia is one of Latin America's poorest nations but the country's first indigenous president, Morales, has won widespread support from prudent spending from natural resources to tackle poverty.

One of Morales' first moves upon coming into the presidency in 2008 was to push a re-naming of the country to a "plurinational" state to better represent the country's diverse indigenous and mestizo cultures.

Source: Reuters And AFP