QUITO: Pope Francis wrapped up the first day of a grueling three-nation South American trip on Sunday (Monday in Manila) after greeting tens of thousands of jubilant people who lined the streets of Quito.
The journey, which will also see Francis travel to Bolivia and Paraguay, is the first visit by a pontiff to Ecuador in three decades.
The Pope’s spokesman estimated 500,000 people massed in the capital and thronged the roadsides to catch a glimpse of the pontiff as he took his Popemobile into the city, waving and smiling to the jubilant crowds.
Some threw confetti and danced as he cruised past, others waved the flag of Argentina, the pope’s home nation.
The 78-year-old pontiff had jetted in a short while earlier aboard an Alitalia passenger plane, in a sign of the austere simplicity he has sought to bring to his office.
Still smiling despite losing his skullcap just seconds after emerging from his plane and as the winds ruffled his cassock, he was met on the tarmac by a beaming Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa and the pair shared a warm embrace.
Indigenous children wearing traditional outfits lined the lengthy red carpet, while an orchestra played. Francis shook the children’s hands or kissed each of them, as a considerable security detail kept at a discreet distance.
Before leaving the airport, the Pope reportedly allowed fans to take selfies with him.
Then after nightfall, he made a surprise appearance to bless the faithful crowded outside the Holy See’s diplomatic mission where he is staying, and used a megaphone to implore the crowd to go home “and let others sleep.”
The papal visit coincides with a time of political tension in Ecuador, with Correa facing growing calls to leave by some of the biggest anti-government demonstrations to shake the country in recent years.
Pope Francis, who regularly wades into political issues, urged Correa to promote “dialogue and participation without exclusions.”