More than a million excited Ecuadoreans are reported to have congregated in the coastal city of Guayaquil to attend Pope Francis' first mass of his "homecoming" tour of South America.

On the first full day of his three-nation trip, the Argentine-born pontiff left the capital known for its bustling fruit trade.

In his address to the people attending the mass, Francis, who had earlier flown from the capital Quito to Ecuador's second city, emphasised the role of the family in society.

"The family constitutes the best 'social capital'. It cannot be replaced by other institutions," he said, speaking in Spanish 

"It needs to be helped and strengthened, lest we lose our proper sense of the services which society as a whole provides." 

Silvia Flores, a 43-year-old doctor waiting on the streets, said Francis' visit was a "very special day" for Guayaquil. "We're all brothers in Christ," she said.


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After the mass, Francis was due to go to a local Jesuit-run school to visit an old friend he has not seen in three decades, the cigar-smoking Reverend Francisco Cortes.

When he was a seminary director in Argentina, Francis, then Father Jorge Bergoglio, would send seminarians to the school to study theology with Cortes, now a diminutive 91-year-old Spaniard affectionately known as "Father Paquito."

The pope's visit to Guayaquil takes on special significance for Ecuador, and its leftist President Rafael Correa, given it has been the epicentre of anti-government protests for weeks.

Thousands have been taking to the streets of the city and elsewhere to protest against tax changes and alleged state authoritarianism.

Correa said the reforms will only affect the super-wealthy and accuses his foes of seeking a coup d'etat.

After the mass and the meeting with a local priest, Francis is expected to return to the capital Quito. 

Protests and serenades

Al Jazeera's Lucia Newman, reporting from Quito, said reconciliation, the theme of the pope's trip, is very timely in Ecuador, where there have been mass protests against the government.

"The church has intervened, calling on both sides to call a truce while the pope is here," Newman said. 

Protest leaders have called a moratorium during the pope's visit, and Francis used his arrival speech on Sunday to call for dialogue and respect for differences.

"We're excited about this visit despite the conflict that Ecuador is going through right now," said Juan Campuzano, a 45-year-old secondary school teacher in Guayaquil.

On Al Jazeera: Pope Francis kicks off South American tour

As the pope rode into the capital Quito from the airport on Sunday afternoon, some onlookers booed and jeered government officials behind his motorcade.

Earlier on Monday, young people with guitars and drums serenaded the pope as he left the Papal Nunciature's residence in Quito en route to the airport outside the city.

Hundreds applauded as he smiled and blessed well-wishers.

After Ecuador, the pope heads to Bolivia and Paraguay on a tour encompassing three of the region's poorest and smallest countries.

The pope visited Brazil for a youth festival in 2013, but that was to substitute for predecessor Benedict after his sudden resignation.

Since the pope chose the three nations himself, aides have called this the real "homecoming" to his native continent.

Source: Reuters