Speaking at an open-air mass Thursday during a South American tour, Pope Francis condemned the persecution of Christians in the Middle East and around the world, calling it “genocide” and a form of “world war three.”
“Today we are dismayed to see how in the Middle East and elsewhere in the world many of our brothers and sisters are persecuted, tortured and killed for their faith in Jesus,” Pope Francis was quoted by the media as saying.
“In this third world war, waged piecemeal, which we are now experiencing, a form of genocide is taking place, and it must end.”
Pope Francis has been vocal about both political and religious issues in the past. In September of last year, he condemned the recent rash of violence worldwide, speaking out against terrorism. He also noted his grave concern for the danger faced by Christians in Iraq and Syria under the rule of the Islamic State (ISIS), with its policies of forced conversions and history of brutal beheadings of non-Muslims.
His comments Thursday were made in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, to an audience of an estimated one million Christian adherents. Many camped out overnight to see him speak in Christ the Redeemer Plaza. Large screens were set up around the square to broadcast his words.
In addition to his statements on the persecution of Christians today, Pope Francis apologized for atrocities committed against the indigenous populations in the past in the name of Christianity. He “humbly” begged forgiveness from his listeners.
“I say this to you with regret,” he told the crowd, many of whom were indigenous people themselves. “Many grave sins were committed against the native peoples of America in the name of God.”
Pope Francis also denounced today’s consumerist culture. He called it a “mentality in which everything has a price, everything can be bought, everything is negotiable. This way of thinking has room only for a select few.”
“Jesus speaks these words to us, here in this square. No one has to be discarded,” he added.
Pope Francis is both the first Latin American and first Jesuit pope. He arrived in Bolivia Wednesday, the second stop in his three-nation tour of his home continent, which began in Ecuador. From there, he headed to Paraguay.
Alcohol sales and musical performances were banned during his stay in Bolivia, and 17,000 security personnel were deployed.
The two-hour service in Santa Cruz included religious hymns and chants, as well as hundreds of musicians playing Baroque-era musical pieces, introduced by Spanish Jesuit missionaries in the 18th century and still popular in Bolivia today.