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Pope Francis waves to faithful as he arrives in St. Peter's Square in the Vatican City on Wednesday. Marking the feast of St Joseph the Worker and World Labor Day, the pontiff launched an urgent appeal to Christians and men and women of goodwill worldwide to take decisive steps to end slave labor.
Pope Francis took aim at corporations Thursday with a tweet heard round the world:
My thoughts turn to all who are unemployed, often as a result of a self-centred mindset bent on profit at any cost.— Pope Francis (@Pontifex) May 2, 2013
While that’s not a shocking viewpoint from a former Latin American Jesuit known for his austere lifestyle, the bluntness of the message and the social-media pulpit he used to deliver it gained plenty of attention.
Asked about the tweet Thursday at a news conference, Mario Draghi, president of the European Central Bank, paused then replied cautiously: "We are...frustrated, yes certainly.”
The Twitter message came a day after Pope Francis ripped into the "slave labor" conditions at a Bangladesh factory whose collapse last week killed hundreds.
The tweet is only the 30th penned by Francis since he became leader of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics, and was the first time he used a Twitter account followed by millions to convey so sharp a point. (Two days earlier, he tweeted benignly, "How marvelous it would be if, at the end of the day, each of us could say: today I have performed an act of charity towards others.)
But Thursday’s message is consistent with the one the Church has espoused for centuries, theologians say.
"Benedict said much the same thing in his final encyclical," said Thomas Groome, a Boston College professor of theology and religious education who has written numerous books on faith. "It's consistent teaching of the Catholic Church: The profit motive alone cannot be unbridled, cannot be uncontrolled, cannot be unchecked. It has to contribute to the common good."
Not all the faithful on Twitter were quick to see it that way. Among the responses:
"And what was the revenue generated by the Vatican last year?"
"You big lefty."
"Terrific... you're another empty headed socialist... hell of a job, College of Cardinals."
And John MacDonald, managing director at the JMAGroup accounting firm in Oakville, Ontario, shot back: “blah blah blah... it's always the capitalist....what about self indulgent employees who never retrain or take control of their options?”
The pope’s tweet also got nearly 6,000 retweets and was “favorited” more than 2,500 times, a sign that on a day when the European Central Bank announced it would be cutting its key interest rate a quarter-point as employment in Europe still lags, some faithful appreciate an attack on corporate greed from Catholicism's top man.
“Anyone who has lived in poverty and deep poverty — people are not really enjoying being poor. They are always, every day, thinking about what could take me out of this," said John Taylor, president of the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, which helps residents of low-and moderate-income communities get access to banking services. "But they don’t have college degree, they don’t have a rich uncle. They don’t know someone who is about to give them an $80,000 job, and they don’t the contacts or the influence. Self-reliance works well when you have a lot to rely on.”
Since the global financial collapse of 2008, unemployment rates around the world have surged. In the U.S., the painfully high 7.7 percent unemployment rate is among the lowest in the developed world.
In Europe, unemployment reached 12.1 percent in March, an all-time high. In Spain, more than one in four are without a paycheck. In the Arab world, rising unemployment – largely among younger job seekers – fueled an “Arab spring” of social unrest in 2010 from Morocco to Saudi Arabia. Since then, unemployment has continued to rise – to about 16 percent.
This global surge in joblessness has sidelined a large segment of the generation that came of age during the Great Recession. The Economist magazine recently figured that the number of young people out of work globally is nearly as big as the population of the United States.
Known for his humility in his own work, Francis has shunned many perks throughout the years. Back in his hometown of Buenos Aires, before he was elected pope, he rode city buses to get around, and lived in a plain apartment downtown as opposed to the opulent mansion he was entitled to as cardinal.
And shortly after he was elected leader of the Roman Catholic Church, he washed the feet of a dozen inmates in a juvenile detention center in a religious rite as a humble servant of the faithful.
As the pontiff’s pointed tweet made the rounds, another tweet came Thursday from someone better known for his financial opinions: Billionaire Warren Buffett joined Twitter for the first time, saying simply: "Warren is in the house."
He picked up more than 81,000 followers in an hour.
NBC's Amy Langfield contributed to this report.