Pope decries populists, warns democracy is in bad health

TRIESTE, Italy (Reuters) -Pope Francis denounced populist politics and what he called "the dross of ideology" on Sunday, warning that democracy was not in good shape in many parts of the world.

The 87-year-old pope was in the northeastern city of Trieste for a flying visit, his fourth trip within Italy in just over two months as he prepares for a 12-day journey across Asia in September, the longest of his papacy.

Speaking at an annual Roman Catholic convention on social affairs, Francis said many people felt excluded from democracy, with the poor and the weak left to fend for themselves.

"It is evident that democracy is not in good health in today's world," he said, denouncing polarisation and partisanship.

"Ideologies are seductive. Some people compare them to the Pied Piper of Hamelin. They seduce you, but they lead you to deny yourself," he said, referring to a fairy tale where a rat catcher uses his magic powers to steal away a town's children.

He said the "crisis of democracy" afflicted various nations, but did not give any specific examples.

The pope was speaking on the day France holds a parliamentary run-off election, with the far-right National Rally (RN) expected to take the biggest share of the vote, a month after populist parties scored gains in European Union elections.

"Let us not be deceived by easy solutions. Let us instead be passionate about the common good," the pope said on Sunday, highlighting the damage caused by political "corruption and illegality".

The pope, who himself rules as an absolute monarch in the tiny Vatican state, said it was important to teach children the importance of democratic values, warning that "indifference is a cancer of democracy".

"I am concerned about the small number of people who went to vote. Why is it happening?" he asked.

Later, in a homily at an open-air Mass, the pope denounced widespread complacency over social injustice.

"Why are we not scandalised in the face of rampant evil, life being humiliated, labour issues, the sufferings of migrants? Why do we remain apathetic and indifferent to the injustices of the world?" he said.

The half-day visit to Trieste followed similar trips to Venice and Verona in April and May, and an address to Group of Seven leaders in southern Italy in June -- outings that have tested his stamina after repeated ailments over the past year that have sometimes forced him to curtail his workload.

As is now normal, the pontiff got around mainly by wheelchair and appeared in good form. In September he is due to fly over 32,000 km (19,900 miles) on his journey around Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Timor-leste, also known as East Timor, and Singapore.

(Reporting by Crispian Balmer; Editing by Sharon Singleton)