VATICAN CITY (CNS) — With an obligation to lead and protect everyone in their nations, government officials cannot be content “to hope that the poor collect the crumbs that fall from the table of the rich,” Pope Francis said in a message to the Summit of the Americas.

Thirty-five heads of state from North, Central and South America met April 10-11 in Panama City, Panama, for discussions under the theme, “Prosperity with Equity: The Challenge of Cooperation in the Americas.”

Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, was invited to the meeting and read a message from Pope Francis to the participants, who included U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro.


In his message, the pope said he liked the theme of the gathering and hoped the leaders would find ways not only to promote economic growth, but also to guarantee the rights of the poor to the “basic needs” of land, jobs, shelter, health care, education, security and a healthy environment — things “no human being should be excluded from.”

While everyone says they want greater equality and justice, the pope said, “unfortunately, it is still far from a reality. There continue to be unjust inequalities that offend human dignity.”

Some countries of the Western hemisphere have enjoyed economic growth in recent decades, but others are still “prostrated by poverty,” he said. “What is more, in the emerging economies a large portion of the population has not benefited from the general economic progress” and the gap between rich and poor has grown.

Pope Francis also repeated what he said in his apostolic exhortation, “Evangelii Gaudium” (“The Joy of the Gospel”), that “trickle-down” economics doesn’t work; the theory held that increased wealth stimulates the entire economy and its benefits “trickle down” to the poorer sectors of society.

Poverty, discrimination and exclusion, he said, push people to immigrate and breed resentment and violence.

“The immense disparity of opportunities between one country and another means many people feel obliged to abandon their homeland and family, becoming easy prey to human traffickers and slave labor,” he said. In situations like those, he said, “it is not enough to enforce the (immigration) law” because true justice requires defending the rights of the powerless.