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Pope Begins South America Tour With Ecuador Mass


Pope Francis walks with his pastoral staff to celebrate a Mass in Guayaquil, Ecuador, July 6, 2015.
Pope Francis walks with his pastoral staff to celebrate a Mass in Guayaquil, Ecuador, July 6, 2015.

Hundreds of thousands of worshippers gathered in Ecuador Monday for a chance to hear Mass celebrated by Pope Francis, who began a three-country tour with an open-air service in the southwestern port city of Guayaquil.

The 78-year-old Jesuit pontiff landed a day earlier in the 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.

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.

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

As he left Rome, the pope 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 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.

Later in the trip, the pope is planning a visit to a violent Bolivian prison, a meeting with Bolivian trash collectors and a stop at a flood-prone Paraguayan shantytown.

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