Pope Francis spent his final day in Ecuador practicing what he preaches and urging the nation’s clergy to remember their roots and not give into “spiritual Alzheimer’s.”
Wrapping up a three-day trip to this small Andean nation, the pontiff visited a home for the elderly run by Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity, blessing and talking to each of the residents.
Later, he held a meeting with hundreds of priests, nuns and seminarians at the “El Quinche” sanctuary.
As he prepared to launch into a prepared speech, Francis, 78, put the papers aside and announced “I don’t feel like reading” — sparking laughter and applause. Then he launched into a half-hour lecture reminding religious officials to never forget that what they have received was a “gratuidad” — or free — and that God’s grace should be shared just as freely.
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Everything from Christ “comes for free,” Francis said. “We are subjects of that gratuidad and if we forget that, we slowly become more important,” losing the modesty that is at the root of religious life.
He also asked the clergy to remember their ethnic roots.
“It’s sad when they forget their language, it’s very sad when they don’t want to speak it,” he said of religious officials who’d turned their backs on their indigenous communities. “It means that they’ve forgotten where they come from.”
The visit marks the first time a pope had set foot in Ecuador since John Paul II came here in 1985. Throughout his stay, Francis received ecstatic crowds, often stopping to bless the faithful and cradle babies.
“Service, to serve, to serve and not do anything else,” he told the clergy. “We must serve when we’re tired and serve when we’re harto [or sick] of seeing people.”
The pope’s visit came as the nation has been divided by political protests. While demonstrations were put on hold in deference to Francis, hints of tension often arose. Local websites and some media reported that the presidential motorcade, which followed Francis into the city upon his arrival, was booed.
During the departure ceremony, a woman introducing a youth orchestra told the pontiff that the nation was “going through painful times,” but that his exhortations to pray would allow the country to heal.
The pope departed shortly before 2 pm EST on the way to Bolivia — the second stop in his three-nation South America tour. On Friday, he travels to Paraguay before returning to the Vatican Sunday night.
At the end of every speech Francis gave in Ecuador he asked his listeners to pray for him, and he repeated the plea to the clergy.
Pray for me, he said, “Because sometimes I feel the temptation to forget the gratuidad with which God elected me — and where I came from.”