Pope Francis will make his first visit as pontiff to Spanish-speaking Latin America in July, stopping in Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay, the Vatican said Thursday.
The pope will kick off his trip in Ecuador on July 6, then travel to Bolivia on
July 8 and wrap up his tour in Paraguay from July 10 to 12.
A native of Argentina, Francis visited Portuguese-speaking Brazil in July 2013 but has not returned to Spanish-speaking Latin America since becoming pope.
The three countries on his itinerary are among the smallest and poorest in the region, which is home to more than 425 million Catholics — nearly 40 percent of the world’s Catholic population, according to the Pew Research Center.
More than 80 percent of the population is Catholic in all three countries — nearly 90 percent in Paraguay.
The Vatican said a detailed itinerary of the pope’s visit would be published soon.
In Ecuador, where the pope will visit Quito and Guayaquil, President Rafael Correa said the country was “celebrating.”
“Welcome Pope Francis! We will work with all our energy so that his visit, like that of John Paul II 30 years ago, will be unforgettable,” he said.
Local reports said the pope’s itinerary may include visits to the Paraguayan cathedral at Caacupe, which houses a statuette of the Virgin Mary that draws hundreds of thousands of pilgrims every year, and one of Bolivia’s largest prisons.