Pope Francis warns of 'spiritual cancer' caused by materialism in South Korea

“We see signs of an idolatry of wealth, power and pleasure, which come at a high cost to human lives,” he said.

Pope Francis has warned of the “spiritual cancer” caused by the allure of materialism in affluent countries, during a sermon in the newly rich and hyper-competitive nation of South Korea.

The Pope made his plea on Friday during a meeting where some 6,000 young Catholics from 23 nations gathered in the sanctuary town of Solmoe, where Korea's first Catholic priest was born.

“We see signs of an idolatry of wealth, power and pleasure, which come at a high cost to human lives,” he said.

While some South Koreans are proud that national doggedness has seen the nation become Asia’s fourth largest economy, it has been suggested that the pressure explains why it has the world's highest suicide rate.

Referring to the toll that competition can take, the Holy See added it can lead to an emptiness and despair that grows “like a cancer” in society. “Upon how many of our young has this despair taken its toll!” he asked the crowd.

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On Friday he echoed comments he made during his first public Mass in Asia, in the central city of Daejeon, where thousands of young people had gathered for a Catholic festival.

During his homily, Francis – who has been celebrated for championing the poor - urged the faithful to reject “inhuman” economic policies that disenfranchise the poor and “the spirit of unbridled competition which generates selfishness and strife.”

Chang Seouk-kyung, a 57-year-old youth counselor present at the sermon asked: "We are living in the age of limitless competition. But are we truly achieving happiness?"

"If such a message is given by someone as powerful and revered as the pope, it will help people wake up, stop and look around them," he added.

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