NOBSA, COLOMBIA - Artisans in Colombia's high plains have been busy crafting a special gift to give Pope Francis when he visits the country next week: a ruana, a kind of wool poncho that has deep roots in this Andean region.
The thick, normally unadorned ruana is a warm, sleeveless outer garment popular among country folk. But the one designed for the pontiff is a bit fancier, woven from snowy sheep's wool to match Francis' customary white robes and symbolizing purity, serenity and tranquility.
The left side sports an embroidered dove of peace bordered in gold. There's also a belt with the words "liberty and order," the emblem of Colombia's national crest, the Colombian and Italian flags, and words of welcome for the pope.
"We are grateful to him for coming to visit us in Colombia," said Carlos Antonio Nino, owner of a workshop in the town of Nobsa, where on a recent day he worked a manual loom as earth-tone ruanas hung from the ceiling.
The papal poncho was designed over a period of months and was put together by hand by a dozen artisans, most of them Nino's relatives.
The family has been weaving for three generations, and Nino said his grandfather made a ruana for the now-sainted Pope John Paul II when he came to Colombia in 1986.
Nino hopes to be able to present the garment personally to Francis when he is in the capital, Bogota, about three hours to the south, on September 6-7.
The ruana is so important for Nobsa that each July the town holds a festival in its honor that draws crowds of tourists.
"It is a tradition of our grandparents," Nino said.