ROME -- In yet another marathon Saturday outing, Pope Francis visited the depressed Italian region of Molise today, considered by many a forgotten zone due to its persistent economic crisis, and blasted the debilitating effects of joblessness.
The short trip demonstrated anew why many observers consider Pope Francis to be “the world’s parish priest.”
In under eight hours, the pope embarked on a tour that him close to over 150,000 people, including industrial workers, farmers, local youth, the poor and unemployed, as well as the imprisoned and the elderly.
“Not having food to eat isn’t the worst part of being unemployed,” Francis said.
“We can go to a soup kitchen and be fed. The problem is that unemployment robs us of the dignity of bringing food to our tables,” he said.
With those words, the pope got to the heart of his trip: what Italians call a “working emergency” that’s turned Molise into a region whose greatest export commodity is immigrants seeking employment. The pope spoke at a local university in the city of Campobasso.
After listening to the testimony of a working mother, Francis referred to the need to balance family and work, urging parents to “please waste time just playing with your kids!”
Francis then asked the working class and intellectuals gathered in the university’s great hall to find answers to the complex questions the current economic crisis poses. The way to do it, according to the pontiff, is by “being creative about the future”.
Other appointments had the pope celebrating a mass for a crowd of 30,000, having lunch with 60 poor people at a local soup kitchen run by Caritas, the church’s international aid agency, and meeting the elderly at the local cathedral.
During his homily, Francis asked those present to be caring toward the small and the excluded, but also in ordinary life, meaning the family, in the parish, at work, with neighbors.
“It is the charity of everyday, ordinary charity,” he said.
Archbishop Giancarlo Bregantini of Campobasso said Francis chose to visit the town because it is “small, humble and fragile.” He said an invitation had been issued during the last days of the pontificate of Benedict XVI, and when Francis came across it, he RSVP’d with the promise of a visit.
It was Francis’ fifth day trip to an Italian region. The last took place two weeks ago, when the pontiff traveled to Calabria, the power base of major crime syndicate, and branded the mafiosi as “excommunicated.”Inés San Martín is the Globe’s Rome correspondent. She may be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at @inesanma.