Pope Francis Tours Home Continent

Pope Francis Tours Home ContinentPope Francis Tours Home Continent

Hundreds of thousands of people gathered in the Ecuadorean port city of Guayaquil on Monday to greet Pope Francis.

The pope arrived in Ecuador on Sunday on the first leg of his three-country trip to Latin America, which will also take him to Bolivia and Paraguay. It is his second visit to the region since becoming pontiff in 2013.

City officials said a million visitors had traveled to Guayaquil to see the pope, BBC reported.

By 03:30 local time (0830 GMT), a quarter of a million people had already gathered in Samanes Park, where the pontiff will celebrate Mass on Monday.

A Vatican official estimated that half a million people lined the streets of the Ecuadorean capital, Quito, on Sunday.

Thousands of people waited for hours on the streets of the capital, Quito, to welcome the pope. Many also gathered in front of the Vatican Embassy in Quito, where Pope Francis stayed the night.

The pope joined them for a prayer and, according to some of those present, said: “I am going to give you a blessing so that you go home and rest, and let the neighbors get some sleep.”

Pope Francis is the first leader of the Roman Catholic Church to come from South America, but on this occasion he will not be visiting his home country of Argentina. The Vatican said that he would focus on the issue of poverty and inequality.

“Progress and development must ensure a better future for all,” he said in a speech on the Quito airport runway after he was welcomed by Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa.

Pope Francis, who has said he wants “a poor church, for the poor,” is in fact visiting three of South America’s most destitute countries, whose histories call to mind colonization, authoritarianism and violence.

Once again, by choosing these countries, the pontiff is reaching out to the peripheries of a continent; a quarter of the Bolivian population lives on about $2 per day. In Paraguay, 30 percent live on less than $8 per day.

His push against poverty and for greater social justice chimes with a rapprochement between the Vatican and Latin American liberation theology, which many popes had considered taboo because of its associations with Marxist revolution, but Pope Francis has brought it back into the fold.

On Sunday, speaking on the dominant theme of his eight-day visit, the pope urged his “beloved” South America to be mindful of the “most fragile” in its midst.

“Progress and development must ensure a better future for all, paying special attention to our most vulnerable brothers and the most vulnerable minorities, which are the debt that Latin America still has,” he said.