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Poverty stems from unjust economic system, not big families, Pope says

Pope Francis and newlyweds

Blessings: Pope Francis gestures to newlywed couples during his weekly audience in Paul VI hall at the Vatican yesterday (January 21).
Photo: CNS/Tony Gentile, Reuters

FAMILIES who have lots of children do not cause poverty, Pope Francis said.

The main culprit was “an economic system that has removed the human person from its focus and has placed the god of money” as its priority instead, he said yesterday (January 21).

The Pope dedicated his general audience talk to a review of some of the highlights from his visit to Sri Lanka and the Philippines from January 13-19.

Speaking to about 7000 people gathered in the Paul VI audience hall, the Pope recalled his second apostolic journey to Asia after visiting South Korea last August.

He said he wanted to encourage Catholics in their faith and missionary zeal as well as promote inter-religious dialogue, peace, unity and social development by highlighting the important role families and young people should play.

Meetings with families and young people in Manila were a major high point on his trip, he said, because they showed how “healthy families are essential to the life of society”.

“It gives consolation and hope to see so many large families that welcome children as a true gift of God. They know that every child is a blessing,” he said.

The Pope criticised as “simplistic” claims that high birth rates caused poverty.

Rather, an economic system that created “a culture of disposal”, where men, women and children were excluded “is the main reason for poverty, not large families”, he said to applause.

He reiterated the importance of showing “the beauty of the family in God’s plan” and defending it from the many threats and new forms of “ideological colonisation that attack its identity and mission”.

On the flight back from Manila to Rome, the Pope told journalists on January 19 that “for the people who are the poorest, a child is a treasure” and “God knows how to help them”.

But he also underlined that being a good Catholic did not mean married couples “had to be like rabbits”, that is, have children “one after the other” without any sense of responsibility.

Through dialogue with each other, their pastors and Church groups, each couple can seek to discern its own “parental responsibility” and recognise there were “licit” means, through natural family planning, to be “prudent” and generous in welcoming life, he said on the papal plane.

In his audience talk yesterday (January 21), Pope Francis said another important message he highlighted on his trip to Asia was that “taking care of the poor is an essential element of our Christian life and witness”.

This entailed “refusing every form of corruption because corruption steals from the poor and demands a culture of honesty”, he said to applause.

The main motivation for his trip to the Philippines was to meet with survivors of Typhoon Haiyan in Tacloban and “pay homage to the local people’s faith and ability to recover”, he said.

He again prayed for an “innocent victim” of local storms – the 27-year-old Catholic Relief Services worker Kristel Padasas, of Manila. She had worked with a recovery project for victims of Typhoon Haiyan and died on January 17 after the papal Mass in Tacloban when high winds blew over scaffolding.

Meanwhile, he said the importance of reconciliation was the focus of his trip to Sri Lanka, which was seeking to rebuild unity after its 26-year civil war ended in 2009.

The nation’s different religions had “a significant role” to play in fostering a spirit of co-operation and helping bring healing with “the balm of forgiveness”, the Pope said.

Dialogue, respecting human dignity and involving everyone in seeking solutions and promoting the common good were critical, he said he told government officials.

But the high point of that trip, he said, was canonising “the great missionary”, St Joseph Vaz.

The Pope said he hoped the new saint’s “holiness and love for the other would continue to inspire the Church in Sri Lanka, in its apostolate of charity and education”.

He said St Vaz was a model for all Christians who were “called today to propose the saving truth of the Gospel in a multi-religious context, with respect for others, with perseverance and humility”.

Before the general audience, in the lobby of the Domus Sanctae Marthae residence, Pope Francis received two lambs who had been blessed earlier in the day in Rome’s Basilica of St Agnes Outside the Walls, where they were placed on the altar over the martyr’s tomb.

Every year on the feast of St Agnes, the pope blesses two lambs raised by Trappist monks on the outskirts of Rome.

The wool of the lambs blessed on the feast day is woven by a community of nuns and becomes the fabric for the “pallium”, a circular stole, which the pope gives each June to new archbishops from around the world.


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