Pope Francis has once again rejected claims that his concern for the poor and criticisms of capitalism make him a communist, by declaring that he is merely following the Gospel.
In one his longest speeches as Pope, the Holy See outlined his views on a wide range of issues– from poverty and the injustices of unemployment to the need to protect the environment.
"Today I want to unite my voice with yours and accompany you in your fight," he said to participants at the World Meeting of Popular Movements, which is holding a three-day conference in Rome involving groups including trade unions, peasant farmers, and domestic workers.
Among those in the audience were Argentine "cartoneros," who live off the sale of recyclable goods they salvage from rubbish. As archbishop of Buenos Aires, then-Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was particularly close to the cartoneros; as pope he has maintained his support for their plight.Anticipating how his letter would be received by his critics, Francis declared that “land, housing and work are increasingly unavailable to the majority’ of the world’s population,” but said “If I talk about this, some will think that the Pope is communist.”
"They don't understand that love for the poor is at the centre of the Gospel," he said. "Demanding this isn't unusual, it's the social doctrine of the church."
In pictures: 'The many popes of Pope Francis'
In pictures: 'The many popes of Pope Francis'
1/12 The Pro-Gay Pope
In just a year, Pope Francis has managed to change the public perception of the Catholic Church, and the stance it takes on civil issues, like gay rights. Despite originally protesting the legalisation of gay marriage in his native Argentina some years ago, he told reporters this year: “If someone is gay and seeks the Lord with good will, who am I to judge?”
2/12 The Rebel Pope
No other Pope has urged a shake-up of the Catholic Church quite like Pope Francis, a true rebel of the dioceses. Who, incidentally, used to be a night club bouncer.
3/12 The Graffiti Pope
Pope Francis become... SUPER POPE in this Vatican-approved street art. But was he happy with the reference to the fictional DC comic character?"To depict the pope as a sort of superman, a sort of star, seems offensive to me. The pope is a man who laughs, cries, sleeps tranquilly and has friends like everyone else, a normal person," he said. So, that's a no, then.
4/12 The Biker Pope
Yes, the Pope used to own a Harley Davidson. And yes, he auctioned it off this year and donated the proceeds to a charity that feeds the hungry in Rome. Very Papal.
5/12 The ‘Blue’ Pope
Dropping the 'F' bomb during Sunday service? Classic Pope Francis. Sadly, down to a Spanish-speaking slip of the Italian language rather than pure bad-assery.
6/12 The ‘Because I’m Worth It’ Pope
That awkward moment when your Papal hat blows off, forcing your barnet into Sesame Street-like spikes. Pope Francis has been there.
7/12 The Chocolate Pope
Imagine the Pope's delight (horror?) when he was presented with a giant chocolate replica of himself outside the Vatican by by students on a chocolatier course at the Accademia of Maestri Cioccolatieri, near Venice.
8/12 The Rock Star pope
The one and only religious leader ever to grace the cover of Rolling Stone magazine? Introducing... Pope Francis.
9/12 The People’s Pope
His U-turn attitude towards sexuality won him Time magazine's coveted Person of the Year accolade, and the cover of gay rights magazine The Advocate.
10/12 The Merchandise Pope
Thongs, mugs, onesies, earrings and even a baby mobile adorned with decapitated Pope heads, the 'Francis Effect' has seen sales of Papal merchandise soar by 200% over the last year.
11/12 The Fashion Pope
The only Pope, as far as we're aware, to be compared to fashion royalty (Karl Lagerfeld. Yes way.) and win Esquire's Most Stylish Man of 2013 award, too.
12/12 The Modern Pope
Let it be said, Pope Francis knows a thing or two about social media. He might be a way off 'doing a Dalai' and opting for Instagram, but he's not above posing for the odd 'Selfie' on Twitter.
His speech also further highlighted his concerns for the environment, as well as the rights of farmers to have land, and for young people to be employed – issues he said would be dealt with in his upcoming encyclical on ecology and the environment.
The address comes after right-wing US commentators said the Pope is a Marxist because he criticised capitalist excess and demanded that governments should redistribute social benefits to the needy.
Earlier this week, the Pope made headlines by declaring that scientific theories were compatible with the Christian belief of the existence of a creator, and said the theories of evolution and the Bing Bang are real.
Experts said the speech put an end to the “pseudo theories” of creationism and intelligent design that some argue were encouraged by his predecessor Benedict XVI.
Additional reporting by AP