- REUTERS/Giampiero Sposito
Pope Francis condemned the increasing inequality between the rich and the poor as well as society's exploitation and manipulation of nature in a lengthy message released ahead of World Peace Day on Jan. 1, 2014.
"It is a truly pressing duty to use the earth's resources in such a way that all may be free from hunger," Francis wrote in his message.
"It is well known that present production is sufficient, and yet millions of persons continue to suffer and die from hunger, and this is a real scandal. We need, then, to find ways by which all may benefit from the fruits of the earth, not only to avoid the widening gap between those who have more and those who must be content with the crumbs, but above all because it is a question of justice, equality and respect for every human being."
He also reminded the public that humankind has received nature as a common gift from God, and that people are called to exercise a responsible stewardship over it.
"Yet so often we are driven by greed and by the arrogance of dominion, possession, manipulation and exploitation; we do not preserve nature; nor do we respect it or consider it a gracious gift which we must care for and set at the service of our brothers and sisters, including future generations," he lamented.
Earlier this week, Francis was named TIME magazine's "Person of the Year" for 2013, with managing editor Nancy Gibbs noting that the Vatican leader "really stood out to us as someone who has changed the tone and the perception and the focus of one of the world's largest institutions in an extraordinary way."
The Roman Catholic Church leader has quickly established himself as a popular figure worldwide since being elected to succeed the retired Benedict XVI earlier this year, and has made economic injustice and the treatment of the poor one of his prime speaking topics.
In his "apostolic exhortation" in November, his first major written work as pope, Francis denounced the world's "tyrannical" economic system while urging further support for the poor, arguing that the church must be poor and be for the poor.
His statements on the global economy have not been very popular among conservatives, however, with social commentators like U.S. radio show host Rush Limbaugh criticizing the pope's condemnation of the free market system.
"This is just pure Marxism coming out of the mouth of the pope," Limbaugh previously said on his show, adding that the pope is "totally wrong, I mean dramatically, embarrassingly, puzzlingly wrong" about economics.
Despite critics, Francis pressed the issue of economic inequality in his World Peace Day message, arguing at length that Christ calls upon people to help one another and not to stand for hunger and poverty.
"The many situations of inequality, poverty and injustice, are signs not only of a profound lack of fraternity, but also of the absence of a culture of solidarity. New ideologies, characterized by rampant individualism, egocentrism and materialistic consumerism, weaken social bonds, fuelling that 'throw away' mentality which leads to contempt for, and the abandonment of, the weakest and those considered 'useless,'" Francis continued.
"In many parts of the world, there seems to be no end to grave offences against fundamental human rights, especially the right to life and the right to religious freedom. The tragic phenomenon of human trafficking, in which the unscrupulous prey on the lives and the desperation of others, is but one unsettling example of this. Alongside overt armed conflicts are the less visible but no less cruel wars fought in the economic and financial sectors with means which are equally destructive of lives, families and businesses."
Pope Francis' full World Day of Peace message can be read on the Vatican Radio website.