Pope Francis insisted Thursday that public officials live simply, honestly and transparently as he opened a visit to a Central American region that has been rife with corruption scandals and is now coping with political upheaval in nearby Venezuela.
Francis stuck to his script in Panama, celebrating the country's place as bridge between oceans and cultures and holding up the region's newest saint, slain Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero, as a model for a humble church that accompanies the poor.
Francis didn't mention the Venezuela crisis during his first remarks in Panama after a meeting with President Juan Carlos Varela at the presidential palace. But his spokesman said he was following the situation closely, was praying for the Venezuelan people and supported "all efforts that help save the population from further suffering."
He thanked the Panamanian government for "opening the doors of your home" to young pilgrims who have flocked here for World Youth Day, the Catholic Church's big youth rally and the reason for his visit.
But he warned that those same young people are increasingly demanding that public officials live lives that are coherent with the jobs entrusted to them, and build a "culture of greater transparency" between the public and private sectors.
"They call upon them to live in simplicity and transparency, with a clear sense of responsibility for others and for our world," Francis said. "To lead a life that demonstrates that public service is a synonym of honesty and justice, and opposed to all forms of corruption."
Speaking Thursday to Central American bishops, Francis urged church institutions from dioceses down to individual parishes to welcome and integrate migrants and serve as models for the rest of society to overcome fears of foreigners. And he urged them to look to Romero as inspiration for being a humble church that listens to the poor and accompanies them as a father accompanies his children.
Francis said that young people today have few opportunities and face dangerous, difficult challenges, citing "domestic violence, the killing of women - our continent is experiencing a plague in this regard - armed gangs and criminals, drug trafficking, the sexual exploitation of minors and young people, and so on."