In the first mass of Pope Francis’s South American “homecoming tour,” the pontiff asked for support in his effort to reach out to marginalized Catholics when bishops from around the world congregate at the Vatican in October.
The service in Guayaquil, Ecuador on Monday had an audience of 800,000, and focused on the idea of family, which will be the theme of October’s synod. At the gathering, the bishops will discuss treatment of families that deviate from Catholic tradition, like divorced couples who have remarried, and same-sex couples.
The pope asked for prayers for the synod in Monday’s mass, "so that God can take even what might seem to us impure, scandalous or threatening and turn it ... into a miracle. The family today is in need of a miracle."
The elderly, the lonely, and the unemployed also drew sympathy from the pope in his homily.
"How many of our adolescents and young people sense that [love and happiness] are no longer found in their homes?” he said. “How many women, sad and lonely, wonder when love left, when it slipped away from their lives? How many elderly people feel left out of family celebrations, cast aside and longing each day for a little love?"
The family, the pope said, was the “best social capital,” and needed to be preserved.
Something that has set this pontiff apart from his predecessors, however, is his more forgiving view of issues considered “threats” to the family by his more conservative counterparts, like same-sex marriage and communion for divorced couples.
“Who am I to judge?” he once said in reference to homosexuality.
The pope was set to speak Monday afternoon with Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa, who has been the subject of recent protests against perceived state authoritarianism and tax reforms that the leftist president insists will only affect the wealthy.
The three-prong visit to South America includes stops in Bolivia and Paraguay after Ecuador – three of the continent’s smallest and poorest countries. Though he will not visit his native Argentina, this is Pope Francis’s first return to South America since he visited Brazil in 2013, shortly after replacing his predecessor Benedict.
This report contains material from the Associated Press.