Pope Francis said Mass for more than half a million Ecuadoreans yesterday and hinted he wanted a major Vatican gathering this year to find ways to reach out to Catholics who feel excluded by the Church.
On the first full day of a three-nation “homecoming” trip to South America, the Argentine-born pontiff was in Ecuador’s second city Guayaquil, a steamy port sometimes referred to as the world’s “banana capital,” given its bustling fruit trade.
In line with his simple style, he rode into the city in a small silver Fiat marked with Vatican City number plates — “SCV 1” — standing for Stato della Citta del Vaticano or State of Vatican City.
Tens of thousands of people lined the route from the airport, at times rushing police to touch the car and throw flower petals before it.
His eyes often squinting in the sun, Francis switched to an open jeep when he reached the sprawling Mass site and rode though the crowd, which authorities estimated at more than 650,000 people.
“I’ve come to this spiritual encounter to ask the Pope to heal me because I have cancer,” said Franklin Borbor, 48, who, despite his illness, travelled more than five hours to find his place in the park. The 78-year-old Pope weaved his homily around the theme of family, which will be the subject of a month-long synod, or gathering of bishops, at the Vatican in October.
The meeting is expected to discuss ways to reach out to Catholics who have divorced and remarried outside the Church. Under current Church rules, they are prohibited from receiving communion unless they abstain from sexual relations.
The gathering is also due to discuss how the Church should reach out to homosexual Catholics.
Conservative bishops are against any changes regarding the divorced and remarried and, at a preparatory meeting last year, they botched conciliatory language on the pastoral care of gay couples. The Pope said the synod “would consider concrete solutions to the many difficult and significant challenges facing families in our time”.
He asked for prayers for the synod “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.”
Asked about the passage, the Vatican spokesman said the Pope was not referring to specific controversies but that he wanted the synod to find ways “to help people move from a situation of sin to a situation of grace”.
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