The Pope has claimed that big business' worship of money is causing misery and despair for ordinary people, in one of his strongest attacks yet on the global economic system.

Pope Francis, speaking at the start of a day trip to Cagliari, the capital of Sardinia, put aside his prepared text at a meeting with unemployed workers and improvised for nearly 20 minutes.

"I find suffering here ... It weakens you and robs you of hope," he said. "Excuse me if I use strong words, but where there is no work there is no dignity."

The crowd of tens of thousands of people in a square near the city port chanted "work, work, work" at the gathering, which took on the feel of a union rally. Cagliari has a youth unemployment rate of about 50 per cent and much of the island's mining and industrial sector is in crisis, with many unemployed.


The Pope, who as Bishop of Buenos Aires sided with unemployed workers in their conflict with government austerity plans, said a job brought dignity to a person's life.

He cited Jesus, who found fulfilment as a carpenter.

"Lord, you always had work, you were a carpenter and you were happy. But we don't have work, our dignity is being robbed, an unjust system is robbing us of hope. Lord, do not leave us on our own. Lord Jesus, give us jobs and teach us to fight for work."

The Pope met unemployed miners in hard hats, as well as Francesco Mattana, a 45-year-old married father of three who lost his job with an alternative energy company four years ago.

Mattana told the South American pontiff that not having a job "oppresses you and wears you out to the depths of your soul".

Later, the Pope celebrated Mass for about 300,000 people outside the city's cathedral, telling them: "We don't want this globalised economic system which does us so much harm. Men and women have to be at the centre [of an economic system] as God wants, not money.

"The world has become an idolater of this god called money."

Sardinia was not alone in its struggle with high unemployment and the breakdown of communities, he said, as the same problems existed throughout Europe and beyond.