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Pope blasts idolatry of money in Lent message

Francis calls for 'fair distribution of wealth'

04 February, 18:55
Pope blasts idolatry of money in Lent message (By Denis Greenan).

(ANSA) - Vatican City, February 4 - Pope Francis on Tuesday blasted the idolatry of money in his message for Lent.

Francis called for a fair distribution of wealth and warned against love of money and power in his latest indictment of the ill effects of unbridled capitalism.

"When power, luxury and money become idols, they take priority over the need for a fair distribution of wealth," the pope said. "Our consciences thus need to be converted to justice, equality, simplicity and sharing," he said.

Poverty, the pope went on, affects those who "lack basic rights and needs such as food, water, hygiene, work and the opportunity to develop and grow culturally".

"In response to this destitution, the Church offers her help, in meeting these needs and binding these wounds which disfigure the face of humanity," the pontiff said. "Our efforts are also directed to ending violations of human dignity, discrimination and abuse in the world, for these are so often the cause of destitution," Francis said.

Real charity must cost something and must hurt, the pope went on.

"Lent is a fitting time for self-denial; we would do well to ask ourselves what we can give up in order to help and enrich others by our own poverty," said the pontiff. "Let us not forget that real poverty hurts: no self-denial is real without this dimension of penance. "I distrust a charity that costs nothing and does not hurt," he said in the message for Lent, the six-week period of prayer, penance, repentance, almsgiving and self-denial leading up to the commemoration of Jesus's death and resurrection at Easter. Francis has taken every opportunity to draw attention to the plight of the world's poor since his election to replace Benedict XVI following his shock abdication - the first pope to voluntarily step down in over 700 years - last February.

Last week the pope blasted "inhuman" loan sharks he said were "starving" Italian families forced ever deeper into debt by the country's worst postwar recession.

"When a family doesn't have anything to eat because it must pay the mortgage to usurers, no, that is not Christian, that is not human," said Francis at Wednesday's general audience in a salute to an Italian anti-usury association in attendance.

The pope called for the "commitment of institutions" to fight usury, which he called a "dramatic social scourge that wounds the inviolable dignity of the human being".

According to figures released after the pope's message, the number of extortion and usury victims who asked for help from an interior ministry crisis centre on loan-sharking more than doubled last year, to over 1,500.

"And that is quite obviously just the tiniest tip of the iceberg," the centre said.

Francis's broadside was the latest in a string of condemnations of the fall-out of unfettered capitalism which has widened the gap between rich and poor worldwide.

Francis devoted much of his first major written teaching, an apostolic exhortation, to a scathing critique of unchecked neoliberal free-market policies, chiming with the message of Jesus.

In the words of Rolling Stone, which put Francis on its cover last week under the Bob Dylan protest song caption The Time They are a-Changing, "The pope revealed his own obsessions to be more in line with the boss' son".

Time magazine, which anointed Francis its person of the year last month, highlighted that, in the exhortation, Francis could "barely contain his outrage when he writes, "How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?".

"Elsewhere in his exhortation," Time went on, "he goes directly after capitalism and globalization: "Some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion...has never been confirmed by the facts".

"He says the church must work "to eliminate the structural causes of poverty" and adds that while "the Pope loves everyone, rich and poor alike...he is obliged in the name of Christ to remind all that the rich must help, respect and promote the poor".

On January 23 Francis called on the world's media to help bridge the "scandalous" divide between rich and poor.

"On the global level we see a scandalous gap between the opulence of the wealthy and the utter destitution of the poor," said the Argentine pope in his message for the Catholic Church's World Communications Day this summer.