Francis’ appeal, delivered at Quito’s Catholic University, is particularly relevant for Ecuador, which is home to one of the world’s most diverse ecosystems in the Galapagos Islands and Amazon rainforest, but is also heavily dependent on oil extraction.
The pontiff told students and professors that God gave humanity the Earth to not only cultivate, but to care for – a message he framed earlier this month in his headline-grabbing encyclical on the environment.
“It is no longer a mere recommendation, but rather a requirement because of the harm we have inflicted on it by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed it,” he said. Francis challenged universities to ensure that students’ educations are not aimed only at profitable careers but also at helping the poor and the environment.
“There is a relationship between our life and that of mother Earth, between the way we live and the gift we have received from God,” he said.
The Pope’s environmental message has been cheered by indigenous groups, who have complained of being increasingly marginalised by president Rafael Correa as he pushes mining and oil drilling in the Amazon.
That push, coupled with high crude prices, allowed Mr Correa to lift 1.3 million people out of poverty in his eight years in office.
Francis has called for environmentally-responsible development, one that is aimed at helping the poor without sacrificing the planet.
It is a message he is likely to repeat later this week in Bolivia, the next stop on his three-nation South American tour.
Bolivian president Evo Morales has been hailed as an environmental hero to many for demanding rich nations do more to halt global warming.