Millions Expected for Masses as Pope Starts South American Tour

Washington, D.C.  More than a million people are expected for the papal mass Monday.

The 78-year-old Jesuit pope landed Sunday in Ecuador’s capital, Quito, on the first leg of his visit. Government and Church dignitaries greeted him, along with colorfully dressed children and adults waving the papal flag and standing on either side of a long red carpet.

600-Pope_Francis_among_the_people_at_St._Peter's_Square_-_12_May_2013 copy Pope Francis among the people at St. Peter’s Square – 12 May 2013.
Edgar Jiménez from Porto, Portugal.

He is expected to return to the capital Tuesday for another public service in the city’s Bicentennial Park before heading to Bolivia and Paraguay.

Pope Francis is skipping his native Argentina on his ninth trip abroad in two years, but plans to head to his homeland next year.

Accent on impoverished people

As he left Rome, Francis said he wanted to emphasize the plight of impoverished people in the three countries he is visiting, “especially children in need, the elderly, the sick, the imprisoned, the poor, those who are victims of this throwaway culture.”

The Roman Catholic Church has about 1.2 billion followers, with a large portion of them in Latin America. Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay are three of South America’s poorest and smallest countries.

Ecuador has been hit in recent weeks with anti-government demonstrations, protests aimed partly at the call by embattled President Rafael Correa for increased inheritance taxes. Protest leaders have called for a moratorium during the papal visit out of deference to Francis.

The pope is planning to celebrate the Mass in eight languages Monday. Later in the trip, he is planning a visit at a violent Bolivian prison, a meeting with Bolivian trash collectors and a stop at a flood-prone Paraguayan shantytown.

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