Pope Francis Warns About 'Retreat from Democracy' and 'Populism's Easy Answers'

Pope Francis has warned about countries retreating from democracy and urged people to move from "partisanship to participation" in order to protect the vulnerable in society.

The head of the Roman Catholic Church was speaking to political leaders in the Greek capital of Athens on Saturday at the beginning of a three-day visit to the European nation.

Francis also warned against populism and criticized politicians who are engaged in "an obsessive quest for popularity" and make unrealistic promises, though he did not name any particular person or country.

"We cannot avoid noting with concern how today, and not only in Europe, we are witnessing a retreat from democracy," the pontiff said at the country's presidential palace.

"Democracy requires participation and involvement on the part of all. Consequently, it demands hard work and patience," Francis said.

"It is complex, whereas authoritarianism is peremptory and populism's easy answers appear attractive," he added.

Francis, who has been critical of the policies of former President Donald Trump among others, appeared to take aim at nationalism, saying that the European community is "prey to forms of nationalistic self-interest, rather than being an engine of solidarity."

The pope said Europe "appears at times blocked and uncoordinated."

Francis described the western world as being "trapped" in a "frenzy of a thousand earthly concerns and the insatiable greed of a depersonalizing consumerism."

He referred to the history of democracy—Athens is widely held to be the birth place of that form of government—and urged a renewal of "the art of the common good" and a move from "partisanship to participation" that would focus on "the weaker strata of society."

The pope also offered criticism of politicians who engage in "an obsessive quest for popularity, in a thirst for visibility, in a flurry of unrealistic promises."

He called for "good politics" that would include "multilateralism that will not end up being stifled by excessive nationalistic demands."

"Politics needs this in order to put common needs ahead of private interests," Francis said.

Francis touched upon the need to tackle climate change and to help refugees and asylum seekers, whom he described as "protagonists of a horrendous modern Odyssey," recalling the works of the semi-legendary Greek poet Homer.

Many migrants hoping to settle in Europe have died at sea, including 27 people who lost their lives while trying to cross the English Channel from France to the U.K. on November 24.

Francis will visit a migrant reception center on the island of Lesbos on Sunday, while the Vatican recently said they would take at least a dozen migrants who are presently in Cyprus.

"May there ever continue to resound a message that lifts our gaze both on high and towards others," the pope said. "That democracy may be the response to the siren songs of authoritarianism and that individualism and indifference may be overcome by concern for others, for the poor and for creation."

Pope Francis Meets Young People
Pope Francis meets with young people, members of Scholas Occurrentes, on November 25, 2021 in Rome, Italy. The pope has warned against populism's "easy answers" during a visit to Greece. Franco Origlia/Vatican Pool/Corbis/Getty Images