By STACY MEICHTRY And NICHOLAS CASEY CONNECT, ABOARD THE PAPAL PLANE: Widespread youth unemployment is creating a generation of the jobless, Pope Francis said Monday, setting the tone for a weeklong visit to Brazil that marks the first foreign trip of his papacy.
The Argentine pope, speaking to reporters at the start of a 12-hour flight to Rio de Janeiro, criticized labor markets that he said treated young people as “disposable.”
“We risk having a generation that hasn’t held a job. Personal dignity comes from working, from earning your bread,” the pope said. “Young people are in a crisis.”
The global economic malaise is likely to loom large during the papal trip. Pope Francis, history’s first pontiff from the global south, has focused his papacy on ministering to the poor—a message that is likely to resonate in Brazil and other emerging economies, where a recent slowdown in growth is highlighting persistent income inequality and exacerbating public frustrations with perceived government largess.
“We have all become accustomed to this disposable culture,” the pope said. “With all the young people out of work, even they are affected by a culture in which everything is disposable.”
The pope will arrive in Brazil at a tense time. Cities across the country have been the stage of mass protests involving students over government plans to raise public transportation tariffs and spend billions to host events such as the next World Cup.
With his remarks, Pope Francis aligns himself with many of the protesters, even as some locals have begun to question the cost of his own visit.
Brazilian newspapers welcomed Pope Francis with headlines underscoring the country’s recent social unrest and channeling a chief complaint of protesters who took to the streets here last month: the growing divide between rich and poor.
“Pope Says Leaders Must Serve the Poor,” read the front page of O. Estadão de S. Paulo, a big newspaper in Brazil’s main city. “[President] Dilma [Rousseff] to Propose to Pope Action Plan Against Poverty,” was the headline in the Folha de S. Paulo, the country’s largest newspaper.
Frei Betto, a controversial leftist theologian, praised the Pope’s arrival in the daily O Globo, calling the trip a compliment to the country and a boon for its tourism. But he also warned of the possibility of youths taking to the streets. “Will our authorities have the courage to follow the Pope in contact with the youth or prefer to stay in their palaces as in the Confederations Cup final? And if there are demonstrations, the police will act with violence?” Mr. Betto wrote.
Several protests were scheduled throughout the day, including an evening one by hacker-activist group Anonymous and another by Brazil’s gay community, which plans to hold a open air “kissing protest” for the Pope’s arrival to draw attention to the Church’s stance on homosexuals.
The pope met with reporters for nearly an hour, a departure from the brief meetings preferred by his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI. But unlike Pope Benedict, he declined to take questions.
“I don’t give interviews,” the pope said. “For me they are a bit tiring, but thank you for the company.”
Journalists “aren’t saints,” the pope joked. “I’m here among lions.”
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