In Ecuador, Francis cries out for Latin American freedom, unity

Pope Francis arrives to celebrate Mass on Tuesday in Bicentennial Park in Quito, Ecuador. (CNS/Paul Haring)
This article appears in the Francis in Latin America feature series. View the full series.

QUITO, ECUADOR — Standing amid a million people in a park commemorating South America's 200-year-old cry for independence and self-determination, Pope Francis on Tuesday called for unity among its people and for rejection of all forms of authoritarianism.

With blunt words addressed directly to the people of the continent of his birth at an open-air Mass here, the pope tied together the Christian proclamation of faith with Ecuadoreans' centurieslong struggle to stop exploitation of their resources and their very selves.

In a homily focused on Jesus' intense prayer to God on the night before his death -- when he prayed for the unity of his disciples and all they would evangelize -- the pope called for a joining together of that Christian prayer and the continuing struggle for Latin American freedom.

"I imagine these whisperings of Jesus during the Last Supper as a cry that we celebrate in this Mass," said Francis, mentioning that the celebration was being held in a park commemorating Ecuador's 1809 declaration of independence, the first such declaration of freedom from colonial-era rule on the continent.

That declaration, said the pope, "was a cry, born of the awareness of a lack of freedom, of being exploited and sacked."

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"I would like to see these two cries joined together under the beautiful challenge of evangelization," the pope continued. "Not from high-sounding words, neither with complicated terms, but those born from 'the joy of the Gospel.' "

"We gathered here all together around the table with Jesus are a cry, a shout born of the conviction that his presence pushes us to unity," Francis said.

Drawing on the Christian notion of unity in diversity, the pope said the faith "pushes us away from the temptation of proposals nearing dictatorships, ideologies or sectarianism."

"The proposal of Jesus is a concrete one, not of idea," he then told the crowd, adding to his prepared text. "It's very concrete," he said, referencing the parable of the good Samaritan, where he said Jesus tells us simply, "Go and do the same."

Francis' words Tuesday may be interpreted with special significance by some in Ecuador who have raised concerns about the government of President Rafael Correa, which they say has acted in recent years in an authoritarian way.

In the days before the pope's arrival in the country Sunday, thousands of Ecuadoreans took to the streets to protest the government. They gathered at night to allow people to join the protests after work hours and blocked streets, shouting slogans.

The pope spoke Tuesday at Quito's Bicentennial Park, where crowds were again overwhelming for his second outdoor Mass during his three-day trip to Ecuador. Many spent the night at the park, enduring rain and abnormally cold temperatures for a chance to see the pope.

Some also came from neighboring countries, with a number of people especially traveling southwest from Colombia for the opportunity.

Francis has been visiting Ecuador as part of a weeklong trip that will see him travel to Bolivia on Wednesday before continuing on to Paraguay on Friday.

The pope also celebrated a Mass for approximately 1 million people Monday in Guayaquil, Ecuador's Pacific Ocean port city some 250 miles southwest of Quito.

The pope's remarks Tuesday were permeated with language calling for a unified cry from the crowd in Quito, both for regional independence and for a Christian way of life that gives freely of oneself.

While the world "may be torn apart by wars and violence," said Francis, Christians must work for unity in all realms of life.

"Precisely, to this difficult world, Jesus sends us," the pope said. "We must not respond with nonchalance or complain we do not have the resources or that reality overwhelms us. We must respond by taking up the cry of Jesus and accepting the grace and the task of unity."

Referencing the heritage of the park again at the end of his homily, Francis said, "Our cry in this place remembers that first cry of freedom."

"It is just as urgent and pressing like those desires for independence," he said. "It has a similar fascination, the same fire that attracts."

The pope then spoke of a Christian revolution, exhorting all present to give of themselves freely.

" 'Giving oneself' means letting act within oneself all the power of love that the Spirit of God is and thus giving way to his creative power," Francis said.

"By giving of him- or herself, humankind finds again its true identity as children of God in the image of the Father and, like him, giver of life, brother of Jesus, of who we witness," he said.

"That is evangelizing, that is our revolution -- because our faith is always revolutionary -- that is our deepest and permanent cry," he said.

After the Mass in Guayaquil on Monday, Francis returned to Quito to meet with Correa and to visit the city's cathedral.

The encounter between the pope and president lasted about an hour and was held in private. Both leaders walked out of the meeting smiling and greeted crowds in Quito's famous Plaza Grande together.

In interviews before the pope's visit, Ecuadoreans expressed concerns primarily over Correa's decision to allow resource mining in an internationally recognized nature reserve on the country's eastern border with Peru.

Francis' visit continues Tuesday afternoon with two meetings: one with students at the city's Catholic university and another with members of civil society groups.

One participant of the latter meeting is hoping the pope will take the opportunity to speak about Ecuadorean families who chose to emigrate abroad but were killed or never heard from again.

William Murillo Vera, a former Ecuadorean government minister who now acts a spokesman for 109 such families, said he hopes to at least receive a small blessing from the pope to bring to back to their relatives.

"The families never lose faith, never," said Murillo, who said the majority of the families were lost trying to make it to the United States. "A blessing from the pope, that's what I'm asking. So at least I can give them a little sign of hope."

Francis' Ecuadorean visit has also included a number of poignant personal touches.

The pope had lunch with a Jesuit community in Guayaquil on Monday and later in the evening made an unscheduled late-night appearance outside Quito's apostolic nunciature, where he is staying, to wish crowds gathered there a good evening.

The pope has also been using a special wooden pastoral cross during his Masses, which Vatican spokesman Jesuit Fr. Federico Lombardi said is a replica of a cross made for him by a group of Italian prisoners.

[Joshua J. McElwee is NCR Vatican correspondent. His email address is jmcelwee@ncronline.org. Follow him on Twitter: @joshjmac.]

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