LA PAZ, Bolivia - Pope Francis arrived in Bolivia on Wednesday on the second leg of his South American tour and immediately insisted that the Catholic Church continue to play an important role in society amid efforts by the government of President Evo Morales to curb its influence. He later called for dialogue between Bolivia and Chile over their longtime border dispute.

Morales hugged the pope as he descended from the Boliviana de Aviacion plane and hung a pouch around his neck of 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 wasn't 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.

La Paz stands about 13,120 feet above sea level, and the Vatican decided to keep the pope's stay to just four hours to limit any problems for the pontiff, 78, who has only one full lung. Francis seemed in fine form, though, bundled against the cold and wind by a white shawl that he donned for his popemobile ride into town past thousands who came to greet him, waving handkerchiefs and singing songs of welcome.

At an airport welcome ceremony with Morales by his side, Francis praised Bolivia for taking "important steps" to include the poor and marginalized in the political and economic life of the country, South America's poorest.

Morales came to power championing Bolivia's 36 indigenous groups and enshrined their rights in the constitution, and under his leadership Bolivia's economy has boomed thanks to high prices for its natural gas and minerals. But Morales has roiled the local church by taking a series of anti-clerical initiatives, including a new constitution that made the overwhelmingly Catholic nation a secular country.

In his speech, Francis noted the Catholic faith took "deep root" in Bolivia centuries ago "and has continued to shed its light upon society, contributing to the development of the nation and shaping its culture."

"The voice of the bishops, which must be prophetic, speaks to society in the name of the church, our mother, from her preferential, evangelical option for the poor," he said.

Morales, for his part, recalled how the Catholic Church in the past was on the side of the oppressors of Bolivia's people, three-quarters of whom are of indigenous origin. But Morales, an Aymara Indian known for anti-imperialist and socialist stands, said things have changed with this pope and the Bolivian people are greeting Francis as someone who is "helping in the liberation of our people."

"He who betrays a poor person, betrays Pope Francis," Morales said.

He later gave Francis some politically loaded gifts. Chief among them: a crucifix carved into a wooden hammer and sickle, the Communist symbol uniting labor and peasants.

Another politically charged gift was a copy of The Book of the Sea, which is about the loss of Bolivia's access to the sea during the War of the Pacific with Chile in 1879-83. Bolivia has taken its bid to renegotiate access to the Pacific to the International Court of Justice, arguing that its poverty is due in part to being land-locked. Chile has argued the court has no jurisdiction since Bolivia's borders were defined by a 1904 treaty.

Francis referred to the border dispute in a speech to civil authorities later in La Paz, calling for countries of the region to improve their diplomatic relations "in order to avoid conflicts between sister peoples and advance frank and open dialogue about their problems."