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Pope to begin South America visit

Pope Francis is travelling to his native continent of South America on a nine-day pastoral pilgrimage.

The Alitalia plane flying Francis and his entourage to Quito, Ecuador, left Rome this morning at 9.15am local time.

The Argentine-born Pope will also visit Bolivia and Paraguay before returning to the Vatican on July 13.

History's first Latin American Pope is returning with a message of solidarity with the region's poor, who are expected to turn out in their droves to see him.

"The Pope of the poor" chose to visit Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay because they are among the poorest and most marginal nations of a region that claims 40% of the world's Catholics.

He will not be visiting his homeland of Argentina, at least partly to avoid papal entanglement in this year's presidential election.

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