Vatican City, 6 July 2015 (VIS) – At 10 p.m. yesterday, 5 July, Pope Francis arrived in Quito, the capital of Ecuador, on the first leg of his ninth apostolic trip during which he will also visit Bolivia and Paraguay.
The Holy Father left Rome by air at 9 a.m; during the long flight he spoke with the journalists who accompanied him on the aircraft and, as is customary, sent telegrams to the Heads of State of those countries through whose airspace he passed.
Upon arrival in Quito, the Pontiff was received by a group of children dressed in the traditional costumes of the various Ecuadorian peoples: two of them, a boy and a girl, offered him a floral tribute. The president, Rafael Correa, then gave a welcome address in which, in the light of the Encyclical “Laudato si'”, he mentioned that 20% of the national territory is protected in 44 nature reserves and parks, and he underlined the diversity of cultures present in Ecuador, which is home to not only a mestizo majority but also 14 indigenous nationalities with corresponding ancestral languages, including two populations who live in the heart of virgin forest, choosing voluntary isolation. The president also mentioned various documents constituting the pastoral Magisterium, with clear reference to the Social Doctrine of the Church, and concluded amiably: “The Argentines very proudly say 'the Pope is Argentine', and my dear friend Dilma Rousseff, president of Brazil, says, 'very well, the Pope is Argentine, but God is Brazilian!'. Of course the Pope is Argentine, and perhaps God is Brazilian, but one thing is certain: paradise is Ecuadorian!”.
The Pope expressed his joy and gratitude for the warm welcome he received, “a sign of the hospitality which so well defines the people of this noble nation”.
“I thank you, Mr President, for your words and I appreciate the convergence of what you have said with my own way of thinking: you have quoted me far too much, thank you!”, he continued. “I, in turn, express my cordial good wishes for the exercise of your office: that you may achieve your objectives for the good of your people. I greet the distinguished government authorities, my brother bishops, the faithful of the Church in this country, and all those who today have opened to me their hearts, their homes, their nation. To all of you, I express my affection and sincere appreciation”.
“I have visited Ecuador on a number of occasions for pastoral reasons. Today too I have come as a witness of God’s mercy and of faith in Jesus Christ. For centuries that faith has shaped the identity of this people and borne much good fruit, including the outstanding figures of St. Mariana de Jesus, St. Miguel Febres, St. Narcisa de Jesus and Blessed Mercedes de Jesus Molina, beatified in Guayaquil thirty years ago, during the visit of Pope St. John Paul II. These, and others like them, lived their faith with intensity and enthusiasm, and by their works of mercy they contributed in a variety of ways to improving the Ecuadorian society of their day”.
“In our own time too, we can find in the Gospel a key to meeting contemporary challenges, respecting differences, fostering dialogue and full participation, so that the growth in progress and development already registered will be strengthened and ensure a better future for everyone, with particular concern for the most vulnerable of our brothers and sisters who are the debt still outstanding in Latin America. In these efforts, Mr President, you can always count on the commitment and cooperation of the Church to serve the Ecuadorian people who move forward with great dignity”.
“Dear friends, I begin my visit filled with excitement and hope for the days ahead. In Ecuador is the point closest to outer space: it is the Chimborazo, which for that reason is called the place 'closest to the sun', the moon and the stars. We Christians identify Christ with the sun, and the moon with the Church; the moon does not have its own light, indeed if it hides from the sun it will be enveloped by darkness. The sun is Jesus Christ and if the Church moves away or hides from him, she will be in darkness and no longer able to offer witness. May the coming days make all of us ever more clearly aware of how close is the sun which 'dawns upon us from on high'. May each of us be a true reflection of his light and his love”.
“From this place, I wish to embrace all of Ecuador. From the peak of Chimborazo to the Pacific coast; from the Amazon rainforest to the Galapagos Islands, may you never lose the ability to thank God for what he has done and is doing for you. May you never lose the ability to protect what is small and simple, to care for your children and for your elderly, who are the living memory of your people, to have confidence in the young, and to be constantly struck by the nobility of your people and the singular beauty of your country, which, according to the President, is nothing short of paradise”.
“May the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary, to which Ecuador has been consecrated, grant you every grace and blessing. Thank you”, concluded the Pope.
Following a brief private audience with President Correa, the Pope travelled by popemobile the forty kilometres between Mariscal Sucre airport and the centre of Quito, the best conserved capital of all South America. It was the first, along with the Polish city of Krakow, to be declared a World Heritage Site by Unesco in 1978. During his journey the Pope was greeted by thousands of people who had gathered around Quito to await his arrival. Upon arrival at the apostolic nunciature, where he was to dine and rest for a few hours, Francis went out into the street to greet the faithful, who applauded him. “I come to bless you before we go to rest, and let the neighbours sleep!” he said, and after reciting the Lord's Prayer with them, he returned inside the nunciature.
This afternoon the Pope will transfer to Guayaquil where he will visit the Shrine of Divine Mercy and celebrate Holy Mass.