POPAYAN, Colombia — A priest who tried to cut short an impassioned speech by an Indian leader Friday was firmly overruled by Pope John Paul II in a gesture of friendship and support for Latin American Indians that brought cheers from a crowd of many thousands.
The Indian, Guillermo Tenorio, was one of several people invited to speak before the pontiff addressed an open-air gathering in this ethnically divided city.
Tenorio emotionally lamented the persecution and martyrdom in 1984 of two Roman Catholic priests who fought for Indian rights.
But as he prepared to utter the name of one of the martyred men--the region's only native priest, Father Alvero Orcue Chaocue--another Colombian priest who was helping to officiate at the ceremony seized the microphone and led him away.
As many in the audience jeered the abrupt interruption by Father Gregorio Caicedo, the Pope spoke into his own microphone on the crude, grass-thatched platform that was erected for his appearance.
"I don't know why the speech of your compatriot was interrupted, but I promise to read it with all my attention," he said, calming the audience.
Crowd Erupts in Cheers
The pontiff then delivered his own lengthy address, much of it in praise of the Indians. At the conclusion, John Paul handed his microphone to Tenorio so that he could finish his speech, and the crowd of about 150,000, most of them non-Indians, erupted in cheers and applause.
Tenorio represents the same Paez tribe that the slain Indian priest belonged to. The priest was believed to have been killed, along with Father Pedro Leon Rodriguez, by the private militia of a large landowner who was trying to cement his seizure of land traditionally owned by the Indians not far from Popayan.
In his speech, Tenorio asked the Pope's help in getting a U.N. human rights commission to investigate the deaths of the two priests. He bitterly complained of a five-century history of "the silence of sorrow and disdain . . . of unknown martyrdom because what the Indian suffers is martyrdom."
Support for Indian Hopes
The pontiff's own speech, prepared weeks in advance of the incident, echoed that of the Indian leader. John Paul pledged church support of Indian aspirations for "land, education, work and health."
After acknowledging the church's "incomprehensions, limitations and failings" that caused tragedies among the Indians during early Christian missionary efforts, the pontiff said, "You are the object of a preferential love of the church and you occupy a privileged position in the Pope's heart."
He added: "I see in you the presence of the aborigines of the immense American continent, which 500 years ago met the European, forming with the fusion of races and cultures the rich ethnic panorama of the New World."
Like the native peoples of many Central and South American countries, the Colombian Indians have been forced from traditional homelands and kept under relentless pressure both by wealthy landowners and by leftist guerrilla groups who use their land for bases.
Only about 2% of Colombia's population of 28.6 million is Indian, but the concentration in the Popayan region represents about 13%, according to government figures.
In another moving gesture to the country's downtrodden, John Paul earlier delayed his departure from the Pacific coast town of Tumaco to make an unannounced visit to the one-room shack of an impoverished black fisherman's family. After inquiring who was head of the family, the Pope embraced the elderly fisherman, then gestured to his Polish secretary, Msgr. Stanislaw Dziwisz, to leave a gift.
$300 for Fisherman
Dziwisz, dubbed the "consonant traveler" by correspondents because of his difficult name and closeness to the traveling pontiff, dug beneath his cassock into a pocket and handed the fisherman $300.
The pontiff's 4 1/2-hour visit to Popayan aroused fear among the superstitious because of a local legend about an ancient prophecy here concerning a Pope's life.
The legend holds that in 1640 a Spanish Jesuit missionary had a dream, which he wrote down. The dream was a prophecy which declared:
"Shortly after the earth trembles, the successor of St. Peter will come as a pastor and his chest will explode with a mortifying pain as it had before, and his white cassock will be stained with blood and he will give up his soul to God in the presence of all the faithful." Popayan suffered a devastating earthquake in 1983, and the Pope was shot in the abdomen in May, 1981, in Rome during an assassination attempt.
The legendary prophecy failed to come to pass Friday, and John Paul continued his pastoral appearances later in the day in Cali, Colombia's second-largest city.
The Pope is midway through a weeklong pastoral visit to Colombia, his 30th papal trip abroad and his seventh to Latin America.