Pope Begins S. America Visit

Pope Begins S. America VisitPope Begins S. America Visit

Pope Francis made his first South American trip in two years on Sunday, for an eight-day tour of Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay, but not his native Argentina.

The 78-year-old pontiff has said he wants to highlight the plight of the poor on his home continent. He landed in Ecuador’s capital on Sunday and was scheduled to give a Holy Mass in eight languages early Monday, AFP reported.

Francis’s last visit to South America was a trip to Brazil that culminated with some three million people gathering in Rio de Janeiro along Copacabana beach for a mass at the end of a Catholic youth festival.

“I want to bring God’s tenderness and care,” the pope said before leaving for South America. “Especially children in need, the elderly, the sick, the imprisoned, the poor, those who are victims of this throwaway culture.”

The papal visit coincides with a time of political tension in Ecuador.

Embattled President Rafael Correa has faced weeks of protests demanding his ouster over his policies, including an initiative to increase inheritance taxes. Correa will meet with the pope late Monday.

Since he was elected pope in March 2013, Francis has become an outspoken advocate for the poor and on social and environment issues. Last month, he urged the world to act quickly to prevent “extraordinary” climate change from destroying the planet.

In his ninth trip abroad, the three countries the pope is visiting are predominantly Catholic and have long struggled with poverty and inequality, which especially afflict the indigenous population.

The visit is the second to Ecuador by a pope, with John Paul II coming in 1985.

The pope’s visit will see him leave for La Paz, Bolivia, on Wednesday. He departs that country for Paraguay on Friday, before returning to Rome on July 12.