Pope Francis Begins S. America Visit with Focus on Poverty
Pope Francis makes his first South American trip in two years Sunday, for an eight-day tour of Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay – but not his native Argentina.
The 78-year-old Jesuit pontiff, the first pope from his “beloved South America,” has said he wants to highlight the plight of the poor on his home continent.
He is due to land in Ecuador’s capital Quito and will give a Holy Mass in eight languages early Monday.
Francis’s last visit to South America was a triumphant 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.
The Catholic Church has about 1.2 billion followers globally, and Latin America represents the biggest portion of that population.
But the region has seen declining numbers as more people turn to Protestant churches.
“I want to bear witness to the joy of the Gospel and 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, AFP reported.
Embattled President Rafael Correa, an avowed admirer of Francis who describes himself as a “humanist Catholic of the left,” has faced weeks of protests demanding his ouster over his policies, including an initiative to increase inheritance taxes.
“We are filled with joy at the coming of Pope Francis, the first Latin American pope,” Correa said in his weekly address.
“How the Church is changing! What a strong message you are bringing.”