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 / Updated  / Source: NBC News

MILAN – Pope Francis warned against the “culture of waste” Friday at the opening of the 2015 Milan Expo, a global showcase of food, culture and technology.

In a video address, the pontiff referred to the irony of a global mega spectacle whose chosen themes were sustainable development and feeding the poor.

"In certain ways, the Expo itself is part of this paradox of abundance, it obeys the culture of waste and does not contribute to a model of equitable and sustainable development," Pope Francis said.

The real protagonists of the event should be "the faces of the men and women who are hungry, who fall ill and even die because of an insufficient or harmful diet," he said.

Italy hopes the showcase of global food, culture and technology will lift a gloomy national mood.

"Today it is as though Italy is embracing the world," said Prime Minister Matteo Renzi at the opening ceremony. "All you experts who kept saying 'we'll never do it,' this is your answer.”

With 10 million tickets already sold, officials are counting on some 20 million people attending, and hope overall revenues will top $10.75 billion, half from foreign visitors drawn to Milan.

But the fair, which follows the 2010 Expo in Shanghai, has also rallied a range of protesters, from anti-globalization and environmentalist activists to anti-austerity campaigners. Many see it as a symbol of big business interests hiding behind a cover of green sustainability. Tens of thousands of demonstrators, grouped under the umbrella label NoExpo, were expected in Milan later Friday in protest.

Expo 2015 will feature interactive displays on the theme of "Feeding the Planet," with national pavilions from 54 countries presenting exhibitions and samples of local cuisine.


- Reuters