Pope calls greed ‘the devil’s dung’

Updated 4:41 PM EDT, Sat July 11, 2015
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(CNN) —  

Pope Francis delivered a fiery denunciation of modern capitalism on Thursday night, calling the “unfettered pursuit of money” the “dung of the devil” and accusing world leaders of “cowardice” for refusing to defend the earth from exploitation.

Speaking to grassroots organizers in Bolivia, the Pope urged the poor and disenfranchised to rise up against “new colonialism,” including corporations, loan agencies, free trade treaties, austerity measures, and “the monopolizing of the communications media.”

Here’s what one prominent American priest had to say about the speech:

There is quite a lot to unpack in the speech, including the Pope’s apology for the “many grave sins” committed by Catholic Church against Native Americans “in the name of God.”

Andrew Chesnut, an expert on Catholicism in Latin America, called the Pope’s apology the “fullest” the church has ever given for its colonial history in the region and “the most significant aspect of his trip thus far.”

The speech was pretty long, as even the Pope admitted:

Here are the 7 most pungent quotes from the Pope’s speech:

1. “This system is by now intolerable: farmworkers find it intolerable, laborers find it intolerable, communities find it intolerable, people find it intolerable … The earth itself … also finds it intolerable.”

2. “And behind all this pain, death and destruction there is the stench of what Basil of Caesarea, one of the church’s first theologians, called ‘the dung of the devil.’ An unfettered pursuit of money rules. That is the dung of the devil.”

3. “Working for a just distribution of the fruits of the earth and human labor is not mere philanthropy. It is a moral obligation. For Christians, the responsibility is even greater: it is a commandment.”

4. “It is not enough to let a few drops fall whenever the poor shake a cup which never runs over by itself.”

5. “I humbly ask forgiveness, not only for the offenses of the Church herself, but also for crimes committed against the native peoples during the so-called conquest of America.”

6. “The new colonialism takes on different faces. At times it appears as the anonymous influence of mammon: corporations, loan agencies, certain ‘free trade’ treaties, and the imposition of measures of ‘austerity’ which always tighten the belt of workers and the poor.”

7. “Our common home is being pillaged, laid waste and harmed with impunity. Cowardice in defending it is a grave sin. We see with growing disappointment how one international summit after another takes place without any significant result.”

Pope Francis also called the recent persecution of Christians a “genocide.”

“Today we are dismayed to see how in the Middle East and elsewhere in the world many of our brothers and sisters are persecuted, tortured and killed for their faith in Jesus. This too needs to be denounced: in this third world war, waged piecemeal, which we are now experiencing, a form of genocide – and I stress the world genocide – is taking place, and it must end.”

Read a Catholic priest’s take on the Pope’s “revolutionary” speech: The Pope’s clarion call for justice.

The Pope said he’s often asked why he focuses so intently on what some Christians call the “least and the lost.”

Read the Gospel, Francis answered on Tuesday, specifically Matthew 25. In that passage, Jesus says that in the Last Days, Christians will be asked whether they fed the hungry, clothed the naked, visited the sick.

“This is the heart of the Gospel,” the Pope said.

Almost invariably, Francis ends his speeches by asking people to pray for him. At the end of Thursday’s speech to grassroots organizers, he asked them – if they’re not the praying types – to send him some “good vibes.

Below are some other fascinating moments from the Pope’s weeklong visit to South America.

A Communist crucifix

Pope Francis celebrated Mass with nearly a million Bolivians in Santa Cruz on Thursday. But the scene that has set a thousand tongues wagging is a gift from Bolivian president Evo Morales.

On Wednesday evening in La Paz, Morales presented Francis with wooden crucifix laid atop a hammer and sickle, the Communist symbol conceived during the Russian Revolution.

You can see the symbol in the photo below.

Bolivian President Evo Morales presents Pope Francis with a gift of a crucifix carved into a wooden hammer and sickle, the Communist symbol uniting labor and peasants in La Paz, Bolivia, on July 8.
Bolivian President Evo Morales presents Pope Francis with a gift of a crucifix carved into a wooden hammer and sickle, the Communist symbol uniting labor and peasants in La Paz, Bolivia, on July 8.
PHOTO: L'Osservatore Romano/Pool/AP

The links and battles between Communism and the Catholic Church are an extremely sensitive subject in Latin America, the Pope’s home continent. While he was an archbishop in Argentina, Francis tried to strike a delicate balance between championing the poor and avoiding class warfare.

According to reports, Morales told Francis that the “Communist crucifix” was modeled on a design created by the Rev. Luis Espinal, a politically active priest murdered in Bolivia in 1980. (The Pope stopped and prayed at the site of the shooting on Wednesday evening.)

It’s unclear whether the Pope told Morales, “That’s not right,” or simply said: “I didn’t know that.”

In any case, Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi had the final word:

“Certainly,” he told reporters, “it will not be put in a church.”

Francis gets the nun’s rush

A visibly winded Pope Francis landed in La Paz, Bolivia – one of the world’s highest capitals – on Wednesday.

Vatican officials say the Pope did not chew coca leaves, as had been widely discussed. But he did drink coca tea, another South American remedy for altitude sickness, on the plane ride from Ecuador to Bolivia.

(The Catholic Herald has a good explainer on coca, whose leaves are considered sacred by indigenous peoples.)

For all the concern about altitude sickness, though, a Catholic nun might have given Francis his most surprising moment when she rushed toward him at La Paz Cathedral.

The Pope quickly recovered, and gave the nuns a blessing, as you can see in the video below.

It’s another indication of just how excited South Americans are to welcome home the first pope from their continent.

In a speech to Bolivian authorities later on Wednesday evening, the Pope continued to press the big themes of his weeklong trip through three South American countries: challenges to the family, economic fairness and environmental protection.

Francis called for dialogue between Bolivia and its neighbor, Chile, over access to the Pacific Ocean (a complaint Bolivian President Evo Morales reportedly mentioned to the Pope earlier on Wednesday).

He also said that Bolivia is at a “historic crossroads” and urged political, religious and cultural leaders to work together.

“In this land whose history has been marred by exploitation, greed and so many forms of selfishness and sectarianism, now is the time for integration.”

Coca leaves for El Papa?

Pope Francis landed in La Paz, Bolivia, on Wednesday afternoon, a city nearly 12,000 feet above sea level.

As noted above, there had been a lot of discussion about how the 78-year-old pontiff, who has only one fully functioning lung due to a childhood bout with pneumonia, will handle the extremely high altitude.

At least one Bolivian official suggested that he should chew coca leaves, a local and legal remedy in his host country.

Check out the video below by our Shasta Darlington, in which she asks people in La Paz what Francis should do.

A papal pep talk

Addressing priests and nuns in Ecuador on Wednesday, the Pope said he had prepared a speech – but didn’t want to deliver it.

Instead, the pontiff spoke spontaneously for about 30 minutes, in a speech that showcased his sprightly sense of humor.

He teased nuns who would rather watch soap operas than care for the needy. He joked that he doesn’t remember quotes and Bible passages as well as he once did. And he warned priests, and bishops for that matter, not to fall prey to “spiritual Alzheimer’s,” a punchy phrase he has used quite often in the last few years.

The word that Francis kept coming back to is “gratuidad,” mentioning it at least a dozen times during the papal pep talk. Translated into English the word is somewhat clunky: gratuitousness.

I asked a translator I’ve been working with a little more about “gratuidad.” Is it common word in Spanish, I wondered?

It’s not, said Richard Singer, the translator, and I could see that he had circled it in the Pope’s prepared remarks. Singer said that he had wanted to make sure it was correct and look up what, precisely, it meant.

Literally, it means “something freely given,” sort of like a “gratuity.”

But unlike a tip for a waiter, “gratuidad” means not only a gift, but also one that’s not necessarily deserved.

That fit with a big theme of the Pope’s message to nuns and priests: Remember your roots, and don’t think you’re special just because you’ve received a calling from God.

“You did not buy a ticket to get into the seminary,” he told them. “You did nothing to ‘deserve’ it.”

Embracing the elderly, talking selfies with the young

As Pope Francis continues his trip through South America, it’s clear that he wants to particularly embrace three groups of people: the young, the sick and the elderly.

As you can see in this video from Tuesday in Ecuador, that embrace is quite literal.

The Pope said he’s often asked why he focuses so intently on what some Christians call the “least and the lost.”

Read the Gospel, Francis answered on Tuesday, specifically Matthew 25. In that passage, Jesus says that in the Last Days, Christians will be asked whether they fed the hungry, clothed the naked, visited the sick.

“This is the heart of the Gospel,” the Pope said.

Mr. President, don’t drill in that rainforest

Also on Tuesday night, the Pope took his eco-friendly message to the masses, calling for a new system of global justice based on human rights and care for the environment rather than economic profits.

“The goods of the Earth are meant for everyone,” the Pope said, “and however much someone may parade his property, it has a social mortgage.”

Francis’ call for environmental protection, a prevalent theme in his papacy, came on the second full day of his weeklong tour of South America. He was speaking to a group of civic leaders and indigenous people at San Francisco Church in Quito, Ecuador’s capital city.

Later this week, Francis will visit Bolivia and Paraguay. Like Ecuador, both countries are home to vast natural resources but also problems like deforestation, pollution and widespread poverty.

In recent months, indigenous groups have protested Ecuador’s president, Rafael Correa, saying that his promotion of drilling and mining near the Amazon rainforest could ruin their ancestral homeland.

The Pope left little doubt about whose side he takes.

“The tapping of natural resources, which are so abundant in Ecuador, must not be concerned with short-term benefits,” Francis said.

It was interesting to see the Pope speak so specifically about his host country’s environmental policies. An apt analogy might be Francis coming out against the Keystone Pipeline when he addresses the U.S. Congress this September.

Here’s the Pope’s whole speech, which is worth reading in full.

A real education

Earlier on Tuesday, the Pope told Catholic students and educators that the purpose of education is not to boost our social status or pad our bank accounts, but to find creative ways to help the poor and save the environment.

In an impassioned speech – it was as animated as Francis has been thus far in his South American trip – the Pope raised his voice, urging students to “make a fuss” and telling teachers not to “play the professor.”

The setting for Tuesday’s speech was the Pontifical Catholic University of Ecuador, where a crowd of thousands gathered under drizzling skies.

“My question to you, as educators, is this: Do you watch over your students, helping them to develop a critical sense, an open mind capable of caring for today’s world?” the Pope asked. “Are you able to encourage them not to disregard the world around them?”

That kind of education, Francis said, only takes place outside of the classroom. Like a teacher underlining an important point – Francis taught high school and was rector of a college in Argentina – the Pope raised his voice and pumped his arms.

“As a university, as educational institutions, as teachers and students, life itself challenges us to answer this question: What does the world need us for? Where is your brother?”

He urged the students, who cheered at the mention of their name, that the mark of a good education is a feeling of “greater responsibility, in the face of today’s problems, to the needs of the poor, concern for the environment.”

Those two themes, poverty and care for creation, are intricately intertwined, the Pope argued in his recent encyclical, “Laudato Si.” Vatican officials said that Pope Francis chose the nations on this trip to highlight the political and spiritual lessons contained in the 180-page letter to the world.

3 ways Pope Francis is shaking up the church: Politics, places and people

Tuesday was Pope Francis’ second full day in Ecuador, the first stop on an eight-day trip that will also take him to Bolivia and Paraguay.

He celebrated a Mass Tuesday morning at Bicentennial Park in Quito, Ecuador’s capital. Crowds were in place for hours – as was the choir, which sang a song about “Santo Padre” (Holy Father) almost all morning.

More than 1 million Catholics turned out for the Mass, organizers say. The lines for Holy Communion were quite long.

In his homily (sermon), Francis connected the themes of political liberty and religious evangelism, drawing loud cheers from the crowd. He noted that Bicentennial Park commemorates Ecuador’s independence from Spain and called on Catholics to set aside their differences and be “builders of unity.”

The Pope continued an early theme of his visit at the Mass: focusing on faith rather than geopolitics. Ecuador’s president, Rafael Correa, has tried to portray Francis as a close ally, but the pontiff has kept his rhetorical distance, declining to explicitly endorse the embattled Ecuadorian.

Here are three key quotes from the Pope’s homily Tuesday morning:

– “Our unity can hardly shine forth if spiritual worldliness makes us feud among ourselves in a futile quest for power, prestige, pleasure or economic security.”

– “Evangelization does not consist in proselytizing … but in attracting by our witness those who are far off, in humbly drawing near to those who feel distant from God and the church, those who are fearful or indifferent …”

– “How beautiful it would be if we could admire how much we care for one another, how we encourage and help each other.”

’Scandalous’ changes?

On Monday, at another Mass, the Pope focused his sermon on the family and hinted that changes that some Catholics might consider “scandalous” could be coming to the church.

Francis was a bit vague about what he had in mind, but he said that bishops meeting this fall will be looking for “concrete solutions” to some of the challenges facing modern families. Most likely, he was referring to how the church ministers to divorced Catholics and LGBT families.

Pope says families need a miracle, hints at ‘scandalous’ changes for the church

After the Mass, the Pope met an old friend and had lunch with the Jesuit community. (Francis is the first Jesuit pope.) He also took many, many selfies throughout the day and shook many, many hands.

It took Francis nearly an hour to get through the line Monday night at the presidential palace. He’s 78, but he has the smile and the stamina of a much younger man.

It’s clear that Ecuadorians are super excited about seeing the first Latin American Pope’s on his first trip to Spanish-speaking countries. This gallery of papal memorabilia conveys some of the essence.

Late Monday night, the Pope said goodnight and went to bed. Except the crowd wouldn’t let him, singing and praying outside the Vatican Embassy, where he’s staying in Quito. Finally, the Pope came out, gave the crowd a quick blessing and then firmly told them to go home and let the neighbors get some rest.

The best of CNN’s papal coverage

Here are some great stories by my CNN colleagues:

Shasta Darlington, who is in Ecuador, looks at how “garage churches” are challenging Catholics in Ecuador.

Rosa Flores. also in Ecuador, visits with one of the Pope’s oldest friends, who opens up about what it’s like to have the Pope as a buddy.

And Amara Walker has a fascinating piece on the evolution of the Popemobile, a name that Pope John Paul II hated.