ASSISI, Italy - The Roman Catholic Church, from the lowliest priest to the pontiff himself, must strip itself of all "vanity, arrogance and pride" and humbly serve the poorest members of society, Pope Francis said on Friday.
The pope's appeal, made in the central Italian hill town of Assisi where his namesake Saint Francis lived in the 12th century, comes amid a drive by Francis to turn around a Church plagued by financial and sexual abuse scandals.
Saint Francis is revered by Catholics and many other Christians for his simplicity, poverty and love of nature. - qualities the Argentinian-born Francis has made the keynote of his papacy since his election in March.
"This is a good occasion to invite the Church to strip itself of worldliness," he said in a room that marks the spot where St. Francis stripped naked as a young man, renounced his wealthy family and set out to serve the poor.
"There is a danger that threatens everyone in the Church, all of us. The danger of worldliness. It leads us to vanity, arrogance and pride," said Francis in the richly frescoed room of the residence of the archbishop of Assisi.
As he has often done, Francis spoke impromptu after putting aside prepared versions of two speeches, clearly moved by the sick and the poor people present in the room.
Francis has brought a new style of openness, consultation and simplicity to the Vatican. A few days after his election, he said he wanted to see "a Church that is poor and for the poor".
He has shunned the spacious papal apartments for spartan quarters in a Vatican guest house and has urged all clergy, regardless of rank, to get out among the poor and needy.