Pope Francis apologizes for church's "sins" against indigenous peoples

SANTA CRUZ, Bolivia -- Pope Francis gave one of the most significant speeches of his papacy on Thursday, encapsulating the themes that have defined his papacy and urging "the lowly, the exploited, the poor and underprivileged" to be the promoters of global change.

During the passionate hour-long speech, the Pope pleaded for a new economic world order, asked forgiveness for the sins of the Catholic church against Latin America's indigenous people, and called on humanity to save the planet from destruction caused by unfettered greed.

Significantly, Francis chose to make the sweeping statements not to an international body such as the UN - where he will be speaking in September - but to a gathering of 1,500 miners, garbage pickers, landless farmers, the unemployed and representatives of indigenous people, participants of the second world meeting of popular movements in Santa Cruz, Bolivia.

Pope Francis described the present economic system as "intolerable" and running "counter to the plans of Jesus."

"Let us say no to an economy of exclusion and inequality, where money rules...That economy kills. That economy excludes. That economy destroys Mother Earth," he said.

A just economy, said Pope Francis, must not only guarantee what he called the three "Ls" - land, lodging and labor - but also education, health care, sports, recreation and culture.

Pope Francis called welfare programs "temporary responses," saying, "It is not enough to let a few drops fall whenever the poor shake a cup which never runs over by itself," he said. He praised cooperatives for creating work "where there were only crumbs of an idolatrous economy."

He told the assembled activists, whom he called "social poets," that the future of humanity was to a great degree in their hands, and urged them to continue in their efforts.

Commending Latin Americans for having fought to gain their independence from colonial powers, the Pope said a "new colonialism" was now threatening them, represented in "corporations, loan agencies, certain 'free trade' treaties, and the imposition of measures of 'austerity' which always tighten the belt of workers and the poor," said the Pope, appearing to refer to agencies such as the IMF.

The Pope asked forgiveness for the "many grave sins" committed against native peoples of Latin America during colonial times, receiving a standing ovation from the crowd which included representatives of many indigenous groups.

He said protecting Mother Earth was "perhaps the most important task facing us today," and said cowardice in defending it was a grave sin. Calling the earth "our common home," he said it was being "pillaged, laid waste and harmed with impunity."

The pontiff called on people and movements to peacefully and firmly "mobilize and demand that appropriately and urgently-needed measures be taken." In June, Pope Francis issued an important document urging immediate action on climate change.

Earlier in the day, the Pope held an open air attended by hundreds of thousands. The government declared Thursday a national holiday so everyone could attend. The mass incorporated indigenous languages and motifs representing some of Bolivia's 36 indigenous groups.