Pope Francis, the first South American pontiff, has returned to that continent to begin an eight-day visit to Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay.
The 78-year-old Jesuit pope landed in Ecuador's capital, Quito, Sunday afternoon on the first leg of his visit. At the airport, he was greeted by government and Church dignitaries, as well as colorfully dressed children and adults waving the papal flag and standing on either side of a long red carpet.
Huge crowds also gathered along the route from the airport to the papal nuncio's residence, where Francis will be staying.
Francis is skipping his native Argentina on the trip, but plans to head to his homeland next year. It is his ninth trip abroad since assuming the papacy more than two years ago.
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 a Mass in eight languages early 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.