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Stolen Our Flag’: Pope Says Communists Are Closet Christians

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis, whose criticisms of unbridled capitalism have prompted some to label him a Marxist, said in an interview published on Sunday that communists had stolen the flag of Christianity.

The pontiff gave an interview to Il Messaggero, Rome's local newspaper, to mark the feast of Saints Peter and Paul, a Roman holiday.

He was asked about a blog post in the Economist magazine that said he sounded like a Leninist when he criticized capitalism and called for radical economic reform.

"I can only say that the communists have stolen our flag. The flag of the poor is Christian. Poverty is at the center of the Gospel," he said, citing Biblical passages about the need to help the poor, the sick and the needy.

"Communists say that all this is communism. Sure, twenty centuries later. So when they speak, one can say to them: 'but then you are Christian'," he said, laughing.

Since his election in March 2013, Francis has often attacked the global economic system as being insensitive to the poor and not doing enough to share wealth with those who need it most.

Earlier this month, he criticized the wealth made from financial speculation as intolerable and said speculation on commodities was a scandal that compromised the poor's access to food.

Francis led a religious ceremony at the Vatican on Sunday, his first public appearance since concerns for his health were raised when he abruptly canceled a visit to a Rome hospital two days ago.

The 77-year-old pope appeared to be in good health as he presided at a two-hour-long Mass in St. Peter's Basilica on the day the Catholic Church celebrates the feast of Saints Peter and Paul.

Last Friday, he canceled a visit to patients at Rome's Gemelli hospital minutes before it was to have started because of what the Vatican called a "sudden indisposition."

In his homily, Francis said bishops should not seek gratification by cultivating "those who wield worldly power" but to find their personal security in their vocation to help the poor.

He also gave 24 recently appointed archbishops a vestment known as a pallium, a small circular band worn around the neck which symbolizes their unity with the pope.

— Reuters