Pope Francis has hit back against those who say that focusing on the poor is a sign of communism, by stating in a speech that caring for the less fortunate is part of the Christian Gospel. He also said that if "faith doesn't reach your pockets, it is not a genuine faith."
Vatican Radio reported that Francis made the comments during mass on Tuesday in the chapel of the Domus Sanctae Marthae, where he said: "Oh, this priest speaks about poverty too much, this bishop talks about poverty, this Christian, this sister talk about poverty. Well, they're a bit communist, aren't they?"
The Roman Catholic Church leader asserted that "poverty is at the very center of the Gospel: If we remove poverty from the Gospel, no one would be able to understand anything about the message of Jesus."
He added that richness is found in zeal, charity, and the Word of God, suggesting that if "faith doesn't reach your pockets, it's not a genuine faith."
Francis reminded the audience that Jesus himself was poor.
"Here is the foundation of the 'theology of poverty:' Jesus Christ, who was rich — with the very richness of God — made Himself poor; He lowered Himself for us. This, then, is the meaning of the first Beatitude: 'Blessed are the poor in spirit,' i.e. 'to be poor is to let oneself be enriched by the poverty of Christ, to desire not to be rich with other riches than those of Christ,'" he continued.
He insisted that poverty is at the "heart of Gospel," and said that Christ "let Himself be impoverished in order to enrich us."
Francis added: "He continues to lower Himself into the history of the Church, into the memorial of His passion, and by the memorial of His humiliation, the memorial of His poverty, by this bread He enriches us."
The pope did not point out where the accusations of Communism are coming from, but he has been described as such by some popular conservative figures, such as radio commentator Rush Limbaugh.
Back in November 2013, Limbaugh said that Francis' comments linking "tyranny" with "unfettered capitalism" is part of the Marxist line of thinking.
"This is just pure Marxism coming out of the mouth of the pope," Limbaugh said, as he argued that when it comes to economics, the pope is "totally wrong, I mean dramatically, embarrassingly, puzzlingly wrong."
Francis has insisted on a number of occasions that his criticism of the global financial system, such as the Vatican report released earlier this year titled "This Economy Kills," is not because he's a Communist, but because Jesus calls Christians to serve the poor.
"Jesus affirms that you cannot serve two masters, God and wealth," Francis said in an interview back in January. "Is it pauperism? No, it is the Gospel."
He added: "This attention to the poor is in the Gospel, and in the tradition of the church, it is not an invention of Communism and [we] need not ideologize it, like sometimes happened in the course of history."