His trip to Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay three of South America’s poorest and smallest countries, is Francis’s first abroad since his landmark encyclical ‘Laudato Si’ issued an urgent call for defence of the environment.
Francis arrived in the Ecuadorian capital Quito after a 13-hour flight from Rome.
Francis visited Brazil for a youth festival in 2013 but that was to substitute for his predecessor Benedict after his sudden resignation.
Because he chose countries himself, Vatican aides say this is the real “homecoming” to his native continent. He will not visit his native Argentina until next year.
His first stop, Ecuador, has been hit by anti-government demonstrators for weeks who have taken to the streets to protest against tax rises and alleged autocracy in government.
Protest leaders have called a moratorium during the pope’s visit out of respect for him.
Celebrated by supporters as a champion of the poor but cast by critics as an old-style Latin America ‘caudillo’, President Rafael Correa was elected in 2006 vowing to spread the country’s wealth more fairly and protect the country’s natural riches.