Pope Francis leaves Rome on Sunday for his first trip to Spanish - speaking Latin America, a " homecoming " to a continent where he will champion the rights of the poor and of the planet. His trip to Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay three of South America's poorest and smallest countries, is Francis' first abroad since his landmark encyclical "Laudato Si" issued an urgent call for defense of the environment. Francis arrives in the Ecuadorian capital Quito after a 13-hour flight from Rome, where on Saturday night he went to the Basilica of St. Mary Major to pray for the success of trip. He left a bouquet of flowers in the colors of the flags of the three countries. Francis visited Brazil for a youth festival in 2013 but that was to substitute for his predecessor Benedict after his sudden resignation. Because he chose the three countries himself, Vatican aides say this is the real "homecoming" to his native continent. He will not visit his native Argentina until next year. His first stop, Ecuador, has for several weeks been hit by anti-government demonstrators who have taken to the streets to protest against tax rises and alleged autocracy in government. Protest leaders have called a moratorium during the duration of the pope's visit out of respect for him. Celebrated by supporters as a champion of the poor but cast by critics as an old-style Latin America "caudillo", President Rafael Correa was elected in 2006 vowing to spread the country's wealth more fairly and protect the country's natural riches. Posters and billboards, some featuring Papal quotes, have appeared all over Quito, a highland capital mixing colonial cobbled streets with modern high rises, celebrating Francis' arrival. Some Ecuadoreans are preparing to camp out at the main plaza to welcome him. A million extra people are expected to flood into Quito and the coastal city of Guayaquil to see the Pope at large open-air masses there.