By Barbara J. Fraser
QUITO, Ecuador — As hundreds of thousands of people streamed into Quito’s Bicentennial Park for Pope Francis’ Mass July 7, Paulina Arua, 33, was among volunteers from all over the country directing them to their places.
Even before the gates opened the previous day, a large crowd had gathered outside the park.
“We spent the night, we got soaked in the rain, but we dried off and went on,” said Arua, who had come from the parish of Tambillo, in Pichincha province.
Some came seeking healing. Guadalupe Saltos traveled from the town of Santo Domingo, Ecuador, with her 5-year-old daughter, Guadalupe, whose legs are paralyzed.
“I ask the Holy Father’s blessing on all of humanity, on my family, my daughter, and all people with disabilities, that there not be so much pain in the world,” she said.
Alicia de Ponce, 85, of Quito, prayed for healing for her daughter, Ana Francisca, ill with Cushing’s syndrome. She also hoped for an easing of the country’s political tensions, which have led to protests in recent weeks, and which “don’t give us a chance to reflect,” she said.
Some remembered other papal visits. Alejandrina Zevallos, 92, made the trip from Cajamarca, Peru, with her daughter and granddaughter. Although she had seen St. John Paul II twice in Peru and once in Rome, “I had to come see Pope Francis, because he is Latin American,” she said.
Born in the rural Peruvian highlands, she said she also was drawn to the first pope to take his name from the saint whom she called “the first ecologist.”
“He stands with the simple people, those who work the land, those who have less money,” said Zevallos, who still keeps a garden. “He is open to the poor. I like that.”
Amid a group of people waving Argentine flags, Jose Luis Scotto, president of an association of Argentines living in Ecuador, said he welcomed the chance to see the pope, “not just because he is Argentinian, but because he is making a profound change” by addressing problems in the church, such as the sexual abuse crisis and irregularities in the Vatican bank.
“The pope is revolutionary, Latin American and a Jesuit,” he said. “The church needed that.”