Pope Francis lamented that investment losses by banks trigger more alarm in the economic crisis than the struggle of people to feed their families, as he led a huge rally on Saturday to invigorate the Catholic Church’s moral conscience, hours after he held talks at the Vatican about the economic crisis with Germany’s leader.
Some 200,000 people, from Europe, Asia and the pope’s native South America, filled St Peter’s Square and nearby streets to join Francis in hours of prayer, music and speeches aimed at encouraging Catholics to strengthen their faith and making morality play a greater role in everyday life.
“If investments, the banks plunge, this is a tragedy, if families are hurting, if they have nothing to eat, well, this is nothing, this is our crisis today,” Francis told the crowd.
Francis said his church “opposes this mentality” and pledged that it will be dedicated to “the poor people.”
Earlier in the day, the pope met privately with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who made a brief visit to Rome, mindful of the importance of Christian voters back home ahead of an election she faces in September.
Francis, who is Argentine, has picked up on campaigns by the two previous popes, the Polish John Paul II and German Benedict XVI, to reinvigorate what the Catholic Church sees as flagging religious enthusiasm on a continent with Christian roots and a decline in morality.
“I see continuity in the missionary aspect, in becoming aware of the importance of Christianity for our Christian roots,” Merkel said.
Merkel’s Christian Democrat Party depends heavily on support from Protestant and Catholic voters in Germany, and the 45-minute chat and photograph opportunity in the Apostolic Palace could be a welcome campaign boost for a leader largely identified by Europe’s economically suffering citizens as a champion of debt reduction, including painful austerity.
For its part, the Vatican is eager for allies in its campaign to anchor European societies more solidly in their heritage of Christian roots.
Meanwhile, in Rome, tens of thousands of people joined a union-organized march on Saturday, protesting the new coalition government’s austerity measures.
The metal workers’ union FIOM said the rally was to demand “the right to jobs, training and healthcare.”
“We cannot wait any longer,” said FIOM secretary Maurizio Landini as Italy is mired in recession.
He said the country’s dire economic conditions began with the decisions of the previous governments of former Italian prime ministers Silvio Berlusconi and Mario Monti.
However, his message to new Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta was “to put jobs back at the center” of the political debate.
The unemployment rate in Italy has reached 11.5 percent, and a staggering 38.4 percent among young people aged 15 to 24.
Organizers claimed 100,000 people turned out for the march and rally in central Rome.