Pope Drinks Coca Leaf Tea

Bolivian specialty wards off altitude sickness
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 9, 2015 2:12 AM CDT
Updated Jul 9, 2015 5:03 AM CDT
Pope Francis is presented with a gift of a crucifix carved into a wooden hammer and sickle, a Communist symbol uniting labor and peasants, by Bolivian President Evo Morales in La Paz yesterday.   (L'Osservatore Romano/Pool Photo via AP)
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(Newser) – Pope Francis didn't chew coca leaves on his visit to La Paz after all, but he would still probably flunk a drug test: To ward off altitude sickness, Francis drank coca leaf tea on his flight to Bolivia from Ecuador yesterday, Reuters reports. The tea, which also contained chamomile flower and anise seeds, is made from the main ingredient in cocaine, but its use is no more controversial in Bolivia than coffee, and the mild stimulant effect is about the same, according to the Catholic News Agency, which notes that Pope John Paul II drank coca leaf tea during his 1988 visit to Bolivia, and Pope Paul VI did the same in 1968.

Francis—who lost part of one lung to disease as a young man—only spent a few hours in La Paz because of the high altitude, but he did not appear to suffer from it, Reuters notes. The AP reports that President Evo Morales gave him a politically charged gift: a crucifix carved into a hammer and sickle, identical to that worn by a left-wing Jesuit priest killed by Bolivia's military dictatorship in 1980. "Remember one of our brothers, a victim of interests that didn't want him to fight for Bolivia's freedom," Francis said in a speech at the site where the Rev. Luis Espinal's body was dumped. "Father Espinal preached the Gospel, the Gospel that bothered them, and because of this they got rid of him."

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