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Pope presses environment message in bio-diverse Ecuador

He urges students to take the lead

 A man posed for a photo with a life-sized cutout of Pope Francis in Quito, Ecuador.
A man posed for a photo with a life-sized cutout of Pope Francis in Quito, Ecuador. ANA BUITRON/ASSOCIATED PRESS

QUITO, Ecuador — Pope Francis challenged Latin America’s youth to take up his environmental protection campaign Tuesday, saying the defense of God’s creation isn’t just a recommendation but a requirement.

Francis’ appeal, delivered at Quito’s Catholic University, is particularly relevant for Ecuador, a Pacific nation that is home to one of the world’s most species-diverse ecosystems in the Galapagos Islands and Amazon rain forest but is also an OPEC country heavily dependent on oil extraction.

Francis told students and professors that God gave humanity the earth to not only cultivate, but also to care for — a message he framed last month in his headline-grabbing encyclical on the environment.

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‘‘It is no longer a mere recommendation, but rather a requirement because of the harm we have inflicted on it by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed it,’’ he said.

He challenged universities to ensure that students’ educations aren’t aimed only at profitable careers but at helping the poor and the environment.

‘‘There is a relationship between our life and that of Mother Earth, between the way we live and the gift we have received from God,’’ he said.

Francis’ environmental message has been cheered by indigenous groups, who have complained of being increasingly marginalized by Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa as he pushes mining and oil drilling in the Amazon. That push, coupled with high crude prices, allowed Correa to lift 1.3 million people out of poverty in his eight years in office.

Francis has called for environmentally responsible development that is aimed at helping the poor without sacrificing the planet.

It was a message he was likely to repeat later in the day at a meeting with indigenous groups, and then later this week in Bolivia, the next stop on his three-nation South American tour. Bolivian President Evo Morales has been hailed as an environmental hero by many for demanding rich nations do more to halt global warming, but he has been assailed by conservationists at home who say he puts oil and gas extraction ahead of clean water and forests.

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Francis began his last full day in Ecuador with an open-air Mass that drew more than 1 million people.