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Pope Francis on Thursday made his strongest call yet for social justice, equality, and environmental protection.
The pope, who is in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, for the second leg of his visit to South America, met with participants of the World Meeting of Popular Movements, a gathering of people at the margins of society, including the unemployed, those living in poverty, and landless farmers.
Right after posing for a picture with a sombrero hat, given to him by Bolivia's president Evo Morales, Pope Francis put on a serious face and said, in his native Spanish: "Do we realize that something is wrong in a world where there are so many farm workers without land, so many families without a home, so many laborers without rights, so many persons whose dignity is not respected?"
Since his election, Pope Francis has been a champion of the poor and marginalized, a staunch critic of the socially exclusive effects of capitalism, and an outspoken environmental campaigner. Thursday's meeting in Santa Cruz gave him a platform to address all those issues at once, in a long and passionate, two-hour address.
"Do we realize that that system has imposed the mentality of profit at any price, with no concern for social exclusion or the destruction of nature?" Pope Francis asked in front of a colorful audience, including participants dressed in traditional Andean clothes.
"We want change in our lives, in our neighborhoods, in our everyday reality. We want a change which can affect the entire world, since global interdependence calls for global answers to local problems. The globalization of hope, a hope which springs up from peoples and takes root among the poor, must replace the globalization of exclusion and indifference!"
The pope, who in June published an encyclical on the environment in which he upheld the theory that climate change is mainly caused by human activity, and called for both those in power and the world's Catholics to act quickly to protect nature, send out a strong warning:
"Time, my brothers and sisters, seems to be running out; we are not yet tearing one another apart, but we are tearing apart our common home. Today, the scientific community realizes what the poor have long told us: harm, perhaps irreversible harm is being done to the ecosystem. The earth, entire peoples and individual persons are being brutally punished. And behind all this pains, death and destruction there is the stench of what Basil of Caesarea called 'the dung of evil.' An unfettered pursuit of money rules."
The Pope, who was interrupted several times by the loud cheers of the audience, at the end of his address summed up his speech in a short, damming statement: "Let us say NO to an economy of exclusion and inequality, where money rules, rather than service. That economy kills. That economy excludes. That economy destroys Mother Earth."
The pontiff also apologized on behalf of the Catholic Church for offenses committed by the Conquistadors
"I would also say, and here I wish to be quite clear, as was Saint John Paul II: 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”
Pope John Paul II, in 1992, also had apologized for the church's role behind the exploitation of Native Americans.
At the end of his speech, the pope received a standing ovation and wore a hard yellow hat — yet another sign that he aspires to represent workers the word over.