QUITO, Ecuador — Pope Francis made an appeal for a united Latin America on Tuesday, saying that the cry for freedom today is as urgent and pressing as the cry for independence two hundred years ago.
“We must not respond with nonchalance, or complain we do not have the resources to do the job, or that the problems are too big,” Francis said on Wednesday while celebrating an open-air Mass in Quito, the Ecuadoran capital.
“Instead, we must respond by taking up the cry of Jesus and accepting the grace and challenge of being builders of unity,” the Argentinean-born pontiff said.
The call for greater political and economic unity in Latin America has been a key concern for the pontiff, reaching back well before his election. It was a top note in a 2007 document from the Latin American bishops meeting in Apariceda, Brazil, of which the future pope was a lead author.
More than one million worshippers from all over Ecuador, but also neighboring countries Peru and Bolivia, gathered on Tuesday in Quito’s Bicentennial Park to hear the pontiff on his last full day in the country.
According to Francis, the name of the park commemorates the cry for independence of the continent in the 1800s. It was a cry, the pope said, which arose from being conscious of a lack of freedom, of exploitation and despoliation, of being “subject to the passing whims of the powers that be.”
In the international press room, different Latin American journalists tended to see this appeal as directed at rulers in their own countries: Ecuadorians, for instance, were convinced he was referring to Rafael Correa, who’s currently trying to modify the constitution to allow reelection. Venezuelans thought of Nicolas Maduro, Argentinians of Cristina Fernandez, and Brazilians of Dilma Rousseff.
Politics aside, the pope also made an appeal for Christian unity.
He highlighted the fact that even in countries where different forms of war and conflict are re-emerging, Christians remain steadfast in the intention to respect others, heal wounds, and build bridges. This desire of unity, Francis said, also involved the “delightful and comforting joy of evangelizing, the conviction that we have an immense treasure to share.”
Talking about spreading Christianity, history’s first Latin American pope said that there’s a need to work for inclusivity at every level, to avoid forms of selfishness, building communication and dialogue, humbly drawing near to those who feel distant from God and the Church “without proselytizing.”
“Proselytism is a cartoon of evangelization,” he said.
Going off-script, Francis added that the Church stands by the poorest, excluded, defenseless, who “never lose their dignity despite being stepped on every day,” receiving an ovation.
The VIP seating was reserved for what Francis calls the “peripheries:” handicapped, elderly, and indigenous people.
A member of the Tsáchila tribe, sitting on the first row, told Crux that he was participating in the Mass out of invitation, something he said, made him very happy and proud. “It’s an honor to welcome this man who’s so invested in protecting not just a few, but all,” he said.
The Tsáchila, “true people,” don’t believe in an institutional religiosity, although they have a very pious popular faith life. A volunteer in the organization of the papal visit told Crux that even though their beliefs are centered in the Pachamama (Mother Earth) and nature, they also accept Christ.
“The majority of Ecuador is Catholic, or at least Christian,” she said. “It’s very hard to find a member of the ancestral tribes that doesn’t believe in Christ.”
The presence of Ecuador’s 14 indigenous nationalities was clear throughout the Mass. For instance, the pope’s vestments were hand-made in wool with a loom, and the second reading was read in Kichwa, a local variation of the Inca Quechua language.
The Mass was held at the bicentennial park, a 300-acre piece of land that’s been labeled the “lungs of the city.” The altar for the ceremony, adorned with 140,000 of colorful roses, was placed in what used to be the tarmac of Quito’s main airport. In 1985, St. John Paul II, the only pope before Francis to visit Ecuador, landed in the same space.
On Monday, the 78-year-old Francis celebrated an open-air Mass in the southwestern port city of Guayaquil, attended by a crowd the Vatican said topped one million. He talked about the importance of the family, comparing it to “good wine” and calling it the “nearest hospital, the first school for the young, and the best home for the elderly.”
Considering the two services together, about 20 percent of the total Ecuadorian population of 15 million saw the pope live at some point during the past three days. The number could be higher if the crowds that gathered around the streets where the Popemobile went through were considered: On the day Francis arrived, almost half a million people waited along the roads.
On Wednesday, Francis will fly to Bolivia, where he’ll spend four hours in La Paz, the capital city, located 13,000 feet over sea level. To avoid any health complications related to the heights, he will then fly down to Santa Cruz for 48 hours.
The pope will celebrate an open air Mass, encounter the local indigenous population, and participate in the World Meeting of Popular Movements, representing landless peasants and other disenfranchised groups.