Pope Francis begins seven-day South America visit with Ecuador

Ecuador’s population is about 15 million.

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Francis also was met by Mayor Jaime Nebot, who gave him the keys to the city, which were gold and silver, encrusted with pearls.

His eyes often squinting in the sun, Francis switched to an open jeep when he reached the sprawling Mass site and rode though the crowd, which authorities estimated at about 800,000.

He asked for prayers for the synod “so that God can take even what might seem to us impure, scandalous or threatening and turn it… into a miracle”.

A small group of Colombians had already set up tents at the ex- site of Quito’s airport, where the Pope will say mass on Tuesday.

“I’ve come to this spiritual encounter to ask the pope to heal me because I have cancer”, said Franklin Borbor, 48, who despite his illness traveled more than five hours to find his place in the park.

In a brief speech, the Pope said that “the tools to deal with the challenges of our times” could be found in the Gospel of Jesus.

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.

Pope Francis will also travel to Bolivia and Paraguay, as part of his second trip to the region since becoming pontiff in 2013.

Flags of more than half a dozen countries can be seen waving in the air at a Mass that Pope Francis is celebrating in Guayaquil, a humid port city that is Ecuador’s largest. High crude prices allowed Correa to get take 1.3 million people out of poverty in his eight years in office. Falling world prices for oil and minerals is now threatening to fray the generous social safety net woven by Correa, who has been buffeted for almost a month by the most serious anti-government street protests of his almost nine years in power.

As the Pope rode into the capital Quito from the airport on Sunday afternoon, some onlookers booed and jeered government officials behind his motorcade. He reportedly spoke about the need to care for people on society’s margins, responsible economic development and caring for the Earth.

Francis thanked Correa for the warm welcome and joked that the President had quoted him too much. One, of them, Elizabeth Maldonado, 16, said afterward she had never dreamed she would hug the pope.

The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said Francis wasn’t anxious about the protests against Correa.

A sea of Catholics, many from neighboring countries, held pictures of the pope or images of the Virgin Mary at Los Samanes park, as firefighters sprayed the crowd with water to keep them cool amid punishing heat.

The 78-year-old Noboa, using a walker, stressed the importance of understanding Francis’ message of “helping out one’s neighbor, being humble and forgiving”.

He will not be visiting his homeland of Argentina, at least partly to avoid papal entanglement in this year’s presidential election. The journey will also include stops in Bolivia and Paraguay.

Crowds are expected to be huge. In Ecuador, 79% of the population is Catholic, while in Bolivia and Paraguay, 77% and 89% respectively are Catholic, according to the Pew Research Center.

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JUNE 13: Pope Francis waves to the boy scouts gathered in St. Peter’s Square on June 13, 2015 in Vatican City, Vatican.

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