x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Pope Francis cautions world on unemployed youth

Pontiff highlights the 'culture of rejection' facing young and old as he heads to Brazil.

ABOARD THE PAPAL PLANE // Pope Francis said yesterday that the world risked having an entire generation of jobless young people as he headed to Brazil, an emerging power facing anger over corruption and lagging public services.

The 76-year-old Argentine, speaking mid-flight while heading to a Roman Catholic youth event in Rio de Janeiro, said his trip was aimed in part "to encourage young people to integrate into society" and convince the world not to abandon them.

"The global crisis has brought nothing good to young people. I saw the data on youth unemployed last week. We run the risk of having a generation without work," said Francis, who carried his own luggage on to the plane, in keeping with his trademark simplicity.

Making his first trip abroad since becoming pope in March, Francis lamented that the elderly were also being treated like outcasts.

"We are used to this culture of rejection with old people, we do it often, despite the life wisdom they give us. They are left on one side as if they have nothing to offer. But today the culture of rejection is being extended to young unemployed people as well," he said.

The pope, who preaches a "poor Church for the poor", will arrive in Brazil in the wake of massive protests against the cost of public transport, government waste and the billions spent on hosting the 2014 World Cup.

The Church is facing its own challenge in Brazil, which is the world's biggest Catholic nation, but has seen its flock shrink and evangelical churches grow.

More than 90 per cent of Brazilians identified as Catholic in 1970, according to the census. A poll by Datafolha Institute showed 57 per cent now call themselves Catholic, while 28 per cent say they are evangelicals.

The pope's message of a simpler church, closer to the people, may hit a nerve in Brazil, which has become richer but still faces economic challenges that brought about one million protesters on to the streets last month.

During his week-long visit, the pope will see the faces of Brazil's success and struggles, with a meeting with the president, Dilma Rousseff scheduled yesterday and a visit to one of Rio's sprawling favelas, or slums, on Thursday.

After landing, the pope is expected to cross the city in an open-top jeep to greet the crowds instead of his bulletproof "popemobile", a decision causing a logistical headache for authorities in the wake of the sometimes violent protests.

Authorities are deploying 30,000 troops and police in the crime-riddled city, where several streets are blocked off.

Pilgrims from around the world are in Rio for World Youth Day, arriving by bus from neighbouring nations or landing by aircraft from across the ocean to greet the first pope from Latin America. The nearly week-long Catholic celebration begins today.