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Homeless have VIP seats for pope's Mass in St. Peter's

Associated Press Associated Press 13/11/2016 By FRANCES D'EMILIO, Associated Press
Pope Francis walks with the pastoral staff as he arrives to celebrate a mass on the occasion of the homeless jubilee in St. Peter's Basilica, at the Vatican, Sunday, Nov. 13, 2016. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia) © The Associated Press Pope Francis walks with the pastoral staff as he arrives to celebrate a mass on the occasion of the homeless jubilee in St. Peter's Basilica, at the Vatican, Sunday, Nov. 13, 2016. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

VATICAN CITY — Homeless people had VIP seats at a special Mass Sunday in St. Peter's Basilica, where Pope Francis lamented attitudes that cut off many of the world's poor from the benefits of progress.

Francis had invited homeless and impoverished people to one of his last Masses during the Holy Year of Mercy he established to stress that virtue. The Holy Year ends on Nov. 20.

Along with cardinals and other prelates dressed in impeccably pressed, bright green vestments, homeless people sat near the ornate central altar. Some of the homeless sported straggly beards or torn and stained clothing. One man's large tattoo on his scalp was evident when he bowed his head in prayer..

In his homily, Francis said God and neighbor are the most valuable riches in life.

"Everything else — the heavens, the earth, all that is beautiful, even this basilica — will pass away, but we must never exclude God or others from our lives," the pope said.

The pope elaborated on his recent comments encouraging social policies of inclusion, amid a backdrop of the rising popularity of politicians advocating exclusionary policies toward migrants of other religions, races or ethnicities in several developed countries.

"It is ominous that we are growing used to this rejection," the pope said. "We should be worried when our consciences are anesthetized and we no longer see the brother or sister suffering at our side, or notice the grave problems in the world, which become a mere refrain familiar from the headlines on the evening news."

He called it a "symptom of spiritual sclerosis" when people focus on producing goods instead of loving others.

"This is the origin of the tragic contradiction of our age: as progress and new possibilities increase, which is a good thing, fewer and fewer people are able to benefit from them," the pope said. He called that contradiction a "great injustice."

"There is no peace in the homes of the prosperous as long as justice is lacking in the home of everyone," he said.

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Frances D'Emilio can be followed at www.twitter.com/fdemilio

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