Pope Francis has received a hero’s welcome in Ecuador’s biggest city as he celebrated the first public Mass of his South American tour, telling hundreds of thousands of faithful their families are the bedrock of society.
In his homily, Francis praised families as the nucleus of society, calling them “the nearest hospital, the first school for the young, the best home for the elderly”. He said miracles are performed every day inside a family out of love, but sometimes the love and happiness run out.
“How many women, sad and lonely, wonder when love left, when it slipped away from their lives?” he asked. “How many elderly people feel left out of family celebrations, cast aside and longing each day for a little love?”
Firefighters sprayed water from hoses on the crowd to provide relief from a searing sun and high humidity that made the 30C (86F) temperature in the Pacific port city of Guayaquil feel hotter.
Many pilgrims had spent the night outdoors, and some walked for miles to reach the park on Guayaquil’s northern outskirts to catch a glimpse of history’s first Latin American pope celebrating Mass on his home turf. They said it was well worth the discomfort.
“I’m tired, I’m hungry, I haven’t slept, but I’m also full of emotion and joy in my heart,” said Vicente Huilcatoma, a former police officer who walked 25 miles to reach Samanes Park.
The Vatican originally estimated more than one million people would turn out for the Mass, and government organisers put the crowd at above that figure in the hour before the service began.
But Gabriel Almeida, the government spokesman at the scene, rolled back the estimate to about 550,000 after officials viewed aerial images of the area.