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Pope Francis puts on hard hat while visiting poverty- stricken Italian island

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
September 24th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

While visiting the poverty-stricken region of Sardinia, Italy, a once-vibrant resort area now crippled with high unemployment, Pope Francis donned a hard hat while visiting a nearby mine. The pontiff offered words for hope for the area's poor, saying "Where there is no work, there is no dignity."

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - His yellow helmet, emblazoned with the slogan "Welcome to Sardinia, Holiness," The Holy See denounced what he called big business's idolatry of money. Conferring with the Sardinians, some of whom wore hardhats from their no longer existent factory jobs, that economic problems were the result of a global economic system "that has at its center an idol called money."

Speaking off the cuff to the huddled masses in Sardinia's capital, the pope told them he knew well what it was like to suffer from financial crisis. Recalling his Italian parents, who immigrated to Argentina before he was born, he offered a view into his home life.

"My young father went to Argentina full of illusions of making it in America," Francis told the crowd at the start of a daylong visit to the island. "And he suffered the terrible crisis of the 1930s. They lost everything. There was no work."

Greeted by shouts of "Lavoro! Lavoro!" (Work! Work!), Francis called for a dignified employment for all.

Previously known for its pristine beaches and vacation homes, Sardinia has been particularly hard-hit by Italy's economic crisis. Businesses have closed, with more and more of the island's families forced to seek charity.

A local coal miner, participating in an underground sit-in to protest the planned closure of the mine, slashed his wrists on television last year.

Unemployment in Italy is at 12 percent, with youth unemployment at a staggering 39.5 percent. The figures in Sardinia is even worse. Unemployment is nearing 20 percent, with youth unemployment at 50 percent.

This is only the pope's second visit to an Italian city outside Rome. The first was to the isolated island of Lampedusa, where thousands of migrants come ashore each year. Noting the similarity, the pope said both islands were places of immense suffering but also hope.

"It's easy to say 'don't lose hope,'" he said. "But to all of you who have work, and to those who don't, let me tell you: Don't let yourselves be robbed of hope."

Francis later celebrated mass in the piazza outside the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Bonaria, the island's patron and namesake of Francis' native Buenos Aires.

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