SANTA CRUZ DE LA SIERRA, Bolivia – Pope Francis called for an end to what he said was the “genocide” of Christians taking place in the Middle East and beyond.
The pope, who has never been afraid to weigh into delicate issues both religious and political, made the comments in Bolivia, the second stop on a three-nation tour to his home continent of South America.
“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 said.
“In this third world war, waged piecemeal, which we are now experiencing, a form of genocide is taking place, and it must end.”
In September last year he lamented a rash of global conflicts, saying they were effectively a “piecemeal” third world war and condemning “terrorism.”
He has also in the past voiced grave concern about the dangers facing Christians around the world, including in Iraq and Syria, where the Islamic State extremist group has overrun large areas in a brutal offensive of beheadings and forced conversions.
His latest remarks, at a so-called World Meeting of the Popular Movements in the city of Santa Cruz, came after he apologized for “offenses” committed by the Catholic Church against indigenous peoples during the colonial-era conquest of the Americas.
The first Latin American pope “humbly” begged forgiveness, during an encounter that included indigenous groups and other activists.
“I say this to you with regret,” he told an enchanted crowd. “Many grave sins were committed against the native peoples of America in the name of God.”
– One million –
Earlier in the day, Pope Francis, a champion of the poor and social justice, called on a million faithful to reject today’s consumer society, at an open-air mass.
The pope addressed the throng in the vast Christ the Redeemer Plaza in Santa Cruz, including many people who camped out overnight to see him.
He denounced what he called 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,” the 78-year-old pontiff told the crowd, estimated by authorities in Bolivia — South America’s poorest nation — at one million strong.
The two-hour service featured religious hymns and chants. Hundreds of musicians also played Baroque works, introduced by Spanish Jesuit missionaries in the 18th century and still very popular in this country.