Pope Francis decried what he called Europe’s “indifferent and anaesthetised conscience” over migrants, during Good Friday prayers in Rome during which he also slammed paedophile priests, arms dealers, fundamentalists and religious persecutors.
Tens of thousands gathered for the service, many clutching candles in the imposing surrounds of the city’s famous Colosseum, where thousands of Christians are believed to have been killed in Roman times.
“O Cross of Christ, today we see you in the Mediterranean and Aegean Seas which have become insatiable cemeteries, reflections of our indifferent and anaesthetised conscience,” the 79-year old pontiff said, referring to the thousands who set off in unseaworthy boats to reach Greece and the rest of Europe.
Francis has long called for the global community to open its doors to refugees and fight xenophobia — appeals which have intensified since a controversial deal between Europe and Turkey to expel migrants arriving in Greece.
The Argentine pontiff did not spare the ills within the Church, fiercely denouncing paedophile priests, describing them as those “unfaithful ministers who, instead of stripping themselves of their own vain ambitions, divest even the innocent of their dignity”.
The Church continues to be dogged by cases of predator priests and past cover-ups. Just this month a French cardinal faced calls to resign over allegations he promoted a cleric who had a previous conviction for sexual abuse.
In the wake of this week’s deadly attacks in Brussels, Francis slammed “terrorist acts committed by followers of some religions which profane the name of God and which use the holy name to justify their unprecedented violence”.
The pope added that “arms dealers who feed the cauldron of war with the innocent blood of our brothers and sisters” and he raged against “traitors who, for thirty pieces of silver, would consign anyone to death”.
Francis also evoked the expressions on the faces of children fleeing war “who often only find death and many Pilates who wash their hands” — a reference to Pontius Pilate, who, according to Christian tradition, said he was bowing to public demand in ordering Jesus’s crucifixion, in a bid to shrug off personal responsibility.