Pope on unity, education and creation

Pope Francis received a warm welcome on his visit to South America, July 2015

Pope Francis’s visit to South America started with a meeting with the hierarchy of Ecuador, in Bicentennial Park in Quito. After he had been greeted by the President of the Ecuadorian Bishops’ Conference, Archbishop Fausto Gabriel Travez OFM, the Pope spoke with the bishops before presiding at Mass with a congregation of more 1.5 million people and 1,200 priests.

In his homily, the Pope spoke about liberation: liberation from social inequality and sin, the need for inclusion at all levels and evangelisation as a vehicle for unity of aspirations, sensibilities and hopes.

Pope Francis' second meeting with Ecuadorians took place in the Pontifical Catholic University of Ecuador, a private university founded in 1946 and managed by the Jesuits, with a current student population of 30,000. He was greeted by the rector, Cesar Fabian Carrasco Castro, and the bishop of Loja, Alfredo Jose Espinoza Mateus, president of the Bishops’ Commission for Education and Culture. This was followed by a prayer composed by St Miguel Febres Cordero FSC (1854-1910), known as St Hermano Miguel, and a passage from the Gospel of St Luke, the parable of the sower, was read.

Creation is a gift from God

In his talk, Pope Francis expressed first his gratitude for the encounter in a university "which for almost 60 years has helped to further the Church's educational mission in service to the men and women of this country"; he then went on to consider the theme of care for creation and education as a seed for the transformation of society.

" The parable of the sower speaks to us of 'cultivating',” he said.”It speaks of various kinds of soil, ways of sowing and bearing fruit, and how they are all related. Ever since the time of Genesis, God has quietly urged us to 'cultivate and care for the earth'. God does not only give us life: he gives us the earth, he gives us all of creation.”

The Pope then addressed the task and mission given to the human race. “He invites them to be a part of his creative work and he says: 'Cultivate it! I am giving you seeds, soil, water and sun. I am giving you your hands and those of your brothers and sisters. There it is, it is yours. It is a gift, a present, an offering. It is not something that can be bought or acquired. It precedes us and it will be there long after us. Our world is a gift given to us by God so that, with Him, we can make it our own. God did not will creation for Himself, so He could see Himself reflected in it. On the contrary: creation is a gift to be shared. It is the space that God gives us to build up with one another, to build a 'we'. The world, history, all of time - this is the setting in which we build this 'we' with God, with others, with the earth. This invitation is always present, more or less consciously in our life; it is always there.”

On Tuesday, Pope Francis called for increased protection of the Amazon rain forest and the indigenous people who live there. He said that Ecuador must resist exploiting natural riches for “short-term benefits,” an implicit rebuke of the policies of President Rafael Correa. “The tapping of natural resources, which are so abundant in Ecuador, must not be concerned with short-term benefits,” Francis told a group of civil society leaders at his final stop of the day. “As stewards of these riches which we have received, we have an obligation toward society as a whole, and toward future generations.”

Sharing the joy of the gospel

From Ecuador, Pope Francis moved on to La Paz in Bolivia. He began his visit by invoking "peace and prosperity upon all the people of this country," saying he had come “as a guest and a pilgrim … to confirm the faith of those who believe in the Risen Christ, so that, during our pilgrimage on earth, we believers may be witnesses of his love, leaven for a better world and co-operators in the building of a more just and fraternal society." He went on to say that during his visit he would "encourage the vocation of Christ's disciples to share the joy of the Gospel to be salt for the earth and light to the world."

Having arrived in Ecuador on Sunday, Bolivia was the second stop on the Pope’s seven-day visit to South America.  He will fly to Paraguay tomorrow (Friday) before returning to Rome on Sunday. There are more than 425 million Catholics in the continent, almost 40 percent of the total Catholic population world-wide.