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Italy needs new wave of Catholic politicians - Pope

CAGLIARI, Sardinia (Reuters) - Pope Benedict said on Sunday Italy needed “a new generation” of Catholic politicians committed to using their religious beliefs to shepherd the country’s future.

Pope Benedict XVI waves as he arrives to celebrate a Mass during a Pastoral visit in the Sardinian town of Cagliari September 7, 2008. REUTERS/Tony Gentile

The pope, visiting the Mediterranean island of Sardinia, also urged young people to shun a consumerist society where money and success had become the new idols to which so many people pay homage.

Addressing some 150,000 people at a shrine to the Virgin Mary in the city’s port area, the pope made it clear that he wanted a return to Catholic values in the political arena.

Italian politics, he said, needed “a new generation of committed lay Christians, capable of seeking solutions of sustainable development with competence and moral rigour”.

Italy’s Catholic vote has been suffering a diaspora since the mid-1990s, when the powerful and now defunct Christian Democratic party disappeared in a wave of corruption scandals.

A number of small parties based on Catholic values have inherited the torn mantle of the Christian Democrats but attempts to unify them into a single force have failed.

But most politicians once close to the Christian Democrats have joined an array of centrist and rightist parties.

Benedict made his comments shortly before he met Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, a centre-right leader who promised in the electoral campaign that led to his election in the spring to keep Catholic values in policy.

Since his election in 2005, the pope has several times jumped into Italy’s political fray on issues such as abortion and gay rights, drawing fire from the left.

Before leaving for the Vatican on Sunday afternoon, the pope addressed some 60,000 young people, urging them to shun the excesses of consumerism and to honour traditional family values.

“What can we say about the fact that today’s consumerist society, money and success have become the new idols before which so many people prostrate themselves?” he asked.

Earlier the pope met some of the centenarians of Sardinia, which has one of the highest rates of longevity in the world.

“I wish you will reach my age, Your Holiness,” said 106-year-old Antonia Girau, known as the doyenne of Cagliari’s centenarians and one of 30 people aged over 100 to meet him.

Demographers and scientists believe the island’s secret lies in a its gene pool, a low-stress agrarian lifestyle and a simple Mediterranean diet of bread, pasta, cheese, wine and fruit.