Pope Francis started his nine-day tour of Latin America, his first as pontiff, on Sunday, arriving in Quito, Ecuador, where he said, "No one, save Jesus Christ, possesses his or her own light." During his trip, Francis is likely to focus on poverty and inequality as well as reiterate his concern for the environment.
"I have come as a witness of God's mercy and of faith in Jesus Christ," Francis said in his prepared remarks at the welcome ceremony Sunday in Quito.
Children in traditional dress greeted the pope at the Mariscal Sucre airport, and shook hands with many of them.
"In Ecuador is the point closest to outer space: it is the peak of Chimborazo, which for that reason is called the place 'closest to the sun,' the moon and the stars," the 78-year-old pope said, according to Vatican Radio. "We Christians identify Christ with the sun, and the moon with the Church, the community of the faithful. No one, save Jesus Christ, possesses his or her own light."
The pope added: "May you never lose the ability to protect what is small and simple, to care for your children and your elderly, to have confidence in the young, and to be constantly struck by the nobility of your people and the singular beauty of your country."
Departing from his prepared remarks, South America's first pope told the crowd that concern for the most vulnerable "is a debt that all of Latin America has."
Francis has said he wants a "Poor Church for the Poor." And this is reflected also in his choice of countries he has visited. For example, he visited Albania and Bosnia in Europe before going to wealthier countries in the region.
"The point he wants to make ... is his conviction that often those on the margins are the most receptive to the church, and he wants to give voice to those on the margins," Austen Ivereigh, an expert on the church and author of a biography, The Great Reformer: Francis and the Making of a Radical Pope, told Los Angeles Times.
In Ecuador, Francis has only one scheduled private meeting, on Monday, with a nearly 91-year-old priest, the Rev. Francisco Cortes, at the Colegio Javier seminary in Guayaquil.
Affectionately known as Padre Paquito, Cortes walks slowly with a cane with a built-in flashlight and admits to a lifelong weakness for cigars, according to The Associated Press. "I don't know why he set the meeting. We haven't even corresponded," The Associated Press quoted Cortes as saying. "I'm really just a Mr. Nobody,"
During his 13-hour flight to Quito, the pope greeted each of the 75 journalists traveling with the papal entourage, talking to them, Vatican Radio reported.
A Bolivian journalist gave him a batch of drawings from children of that country. "I love children's drawings," Francis was quoted as saying.
The pontiff will also travel to Bolivia and Paraguay over the next eight days.