Vatican City, 8 July 2015 (VIS) – Shortly before 6 p.m. (local time) the Pope arrived at the Church of St. Francis, which along with its adjacent convent, constitutes the oldest Catholic religious building in Latin America. The site, of great symbolic significance for the indigenous populations as the base of the Inca and Caranqui military commanders, was acquired by the Franciscans using funds donated from Belgium. Construction began in 1536, the year of the foundation of Quito, and was completed in 1680, although the complex was subsequently extended and was nicknamed “El Escorial of the New World” for its artistic and architectural wealth, extending over three and a half hectares of buildings (13 cloisters, three churches, more than 3,500 colonial works of art and a splendid Franciscan library). It currently hosts various cultural and social activities as well as schools of painting, sculpture and engraving.
The mayor of Quito, Mauricio Rodas, awaited the Holy Father at the main entrance of the Church, in order to present him the keys to the city. Following this simple act, without speeches, the guardian of the Franciscan community welcomed Francis to the centre where he met with Ecuadorian civil society and the representatives of various sectors including culture and the economy, industrial and rural enterprise, voluntary work and sport. The indigenous Amazon peoples were well-represented.
After receiving greetings from the archbishop of Cuenca, Luis Gerardo Cabrera Herrera, president of the Commission for the Laity of the Episcopal Conference, and listening to the words of three laypeople, the Pope pronounced a discourse focusing on the importance of the family as the place where socially useful values such as solidarity, gratuity and respect are learned.
“As I entered this church, the Mayor of Quito gave me the keys to the city. So I can say that here, in Saint Francis of Quito, I feel at home. His expression of affectionate closeness, opening your doors to me, allows me to speak, in turn, about a few other keys: keys to our life in society, beginning with family life.
“Our society benefits when each person and social group feels truly at home. In a family, parents, grandparents and children feel at home; no one is excluded. If someone has a problem, even a serious one, even if he brought it upon himself, the rest of the family comes to his assistance; they support him. His problems are theirs. Should it not be the same in society? Our relationships in society and political life, though, are often based on confrontation and the attempt to eliminate our opponents. My position, my ideas and my plans will move forward if I can prevail over others and impose my will. Is this the way a family should be? In families, everyone contributes to the common purpose, everyone works for the common good, not denying each person’s individuality but encouraging and supporting it. The joys and sorrows of each are felt by all. That is what it means to be a family! If only we could view our political opponents or neighbours in the same way we view our children or our spouse, mother or father! Do we love our society? Do we love our country, the community which we are trying to build? Do we love it in the abstract, in theory? Let us love it by our actions more than by our words! In every person, in concrete situations, in our life together, love always leads to communication, never to isolation. St. Ignatius – allow me a publicity break – St. Ignatius told us in the Exercises that love is shown more through works than words. Le us love society in our works rather than in our words! And he also told us that love always communicates, it tends towards communication rather than isolation. Two criteria that can help us to look upon society with new eyes. Not only to look at it; to feel it, think it, touch it, love it”.
“This feeling can give rise to small gestures which strengthen personal bonds. I have often spoken of the importance of the family as the primary cell of society. In the family, we find the basic values of love, fraternity and mutual respect, which translate into essential values for society as a whole: gratitude, solidarity and subsidiarity”.
“Parents know that all their children are equally loved, even though each has his or her own character. But when children refuse to share what they have freely received, this relationship breaks down. The love of their parents helps children to overcome their selfishness, to learn to live with others, to yield and be patient. In the wider life of society we come to see that 'gratuitousness' is not something extra, but rather a necessary condition of justice. Who we are, and what we have, has been given to us so that we can place it at the service of others. Our task is to make it bear fruit in good works. The goods of the earth are meant for everyone, and however much someone may parade his property, it has a social mortgage. In this way we move beyond purely economic justice, based on commerce, towards social justice, which upholds the fundamental human right to a dignified life. The tapping of natural resources, which are so abundant in Ecuador, must not be concerned with short-term benefits. As stewards of these riches which we have received, we have an obligation toward society as a whole and towards future generations. We cannot bequeath this heritage to them without proper care for the environment, without a sense of gratuitousness born of our contemplation of the created world. Among us today are some of our brothers and sisters representing the indigenous peoples of the Equatorial Amazon. That region is one of the 'richest areas both in the number of species and in endemic, rare or less protected species… it requires greater protection because of its immense importance for the global ecosystem … it possesses an enormously complex biodiversity which is almost impossible to appreciate fully, yet when [such woodlands] are burned down or levelled for purposes of cultivation, within the space of a few years countless species are lost and the areas frequently become arid wastelands'. Ecuador – together with other countries bordering the Amazon – has an opportunity to become a teacher of integral ecology. We received this world as an inheritance from past generations, but also as a loan from future generations, to whom we will have to return it. In an improved condition. And this is gratuity!”
“Out of the family’s experience of fraternity is born solidarity in society, which does not only consist in giving to those in need, but in feeling responsible for one another. If we see others as our brothers and sisters, then no one can be left out or set aside. Ecuador, like many Latin American nations, is now experiencing profound social and cultural changes, new challenges which need to be faced by every sector of society. Migration, overcrowded cities, consumerism, crises in the family, unemployment and pockets of poverty: all these factors create uncertainty and tensions which threaten social harmony. Laws and regulations, as well as social planning, need to aim at inclusion, create opportunities for dialogue and encounter, while leaving behind all forms of repression, excessive control or loss of freedom as painful past memories. Hoping in a better future calls for offering real opportunities to people, especially young people, creating employment, and ensuring an economic growth which is shared by all (rather than simply existing on paper, in macroeconomic statistics), and promoting a sustainable development capable of generating a solid and cohesive social fabric. Without solidarity this is impossible.
I referred to the young and to the lack of work. Worldwide, this is alarming. European countries which were at a high level a few decades ago are now experiencing rates of 40 to 50 per cent unemployment among the young population, those aged 25 or below. Without solidarity this cannot be resolved. I said to the Salesians [in Turin], 'Your institution was founded by Don Bosco to educate, to give emergency education to those young people today who have no work!' Why? Emergency, to prepare them for those little jobs that give them the dignity of bringing home bread for the table. For these young unemployed, those whom we call the 'neither nor' – they neither study nor work – what prospects are left? Dependency, sadness, depression, suicide – the statistics on suicide among the young are not fully published – or to enlist in projects of social madness that at least offer them an ideal? Today we are asked to take care, in a special way, with solidarity, of this third sector of exclusion of the throwaway culture. The first are children, because either they are unwanted – there are developed countries where the birthrate is almost at zero per cent – or they are killed before they are born. Then there are the elderly, abandoned and left, forgetting that they are the wisdom and memory of their people. They are discarded. And now it is the turn of the young. Who has taken their place? The servants of selfishness, the god of money at the centre of a system that crushes everyone.
“Finally, the respect for others which we learn in the family finds social expression in subsidiarity. To recognise that our choices are not necessarily the only legitimate ones is a healthy exercise in humility. In acknowledging the goodness inherent in others, even with their limitations, we see the richness present in diversity and the value of complementarity. Individuals and groups have the right to go their own way, even though they may sometimes make mistakes. In full respect for that freedom, civil society is called to help each person and social organisation to take up its specific role and thus contribute to the common good. Dialogue is needed and is fundamental for arriving at the truth, which cannot be imposed, but sought with a sincere and critical spirit. In a participatory democracy, each social group, indigenous peoples, Afro-Ecuadorians, women, civic associations and those engaged in public service are all indispensable participants in this dialogue. The walls, patios and cloisters of this city eloquently make this point: rooted in elements of Incan and Caranqui culture, beautiful in their proportions and shapes, boldly and strikingly combining different styles, the works of art produced by the 'Quito school' sum up that great dialogue, with its successes and failures, which is Ecuador’s history. Today we see how beautiful it is. If the past was marked by errors and abuses – how can we deny it! – we can say that the amalgamation which resulted radiates such exuberance that we can look to the future with great hope.
“The Church wishes for her part to cooperate in the pursuit of the common good, through her social and educational works, promoting ethical and spiritual values, and serving as a prophetic sign which brings a ray of light and hope to all, especially those most in need. Many people ask me, 'Father, why do you speak so much about the needy, about people in need, excluded people, those left by the wayside?'. It is simply because this reality, and the response to this reality, is at the heart of the Gospel. And precisely because the attitude with which we must face this reality is inscribed in the protocol on which we will be judged, in Matthew 25”.
Francis concluded, “Thank you for being here, for listening to me. I ask you please to carry my words of encouragement to the different communities and groups which you represent. May the Lord grant that the civil society which you represent may always be a fitting setting for experiencing and practising these values of gratuity, solidarity and subsidiarity”.
The Holy Father ended his day with a visit to the Church of the Society, the Society of Jesus' first temple in Ecuador, built between 1605 and 1765, and one of the most important architectural icons of the New World, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Along with some Jesuits from the community, he prayed privately before the image of Our Lady of Sorrows. The visit lasted around half an hour, after which the Pope transferred by car to the apostolic nuncio where he spent the night.
Today, 8 July, the Pope is scheduled to meet with the elderly in the Missionaries of Charity rest home in Tumbaco, and with the clergy in the El Quinche national Marian shrine. From there, the Pope will travel to Quito airport where he will depart for Bolivia, the second phase of his apostolic trip in Latin America.