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.”
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.
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.”