John Paul II Tries to Encourage Argentinians Amid Crisis

Worst Looting in a Decade Hits the Country

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VATICAN CITY, DEC. 19, 2001 ( John Paul II today urged Argentinians to address their nation´s economic crisis with a spirit of mutual understanding.

The Pope´s words came at a moment when thousands of Argentinians took to the streets earlier in the day to loot supermarkets and stores around the country, the worst incidents of this kind in the last decade. The government appealed for calm and promised to distribute food.

When greeting pilgrims from Lomas de Zamora, Argentina, during the general audience, the Holy Father said he hoped that they would return to their country as «bearers of my word of encouragement and hope for this Christmas and New Year.»

«Through the intercession of the most holy Virgin of Lujan, I pray to the Lord that, with magnanimity and generosity Argentinians will find in these difficult moments ways of reconciliation and mutual understanding to build, with God´s help and the collaboration and contribution of all, a future of peace and prosperity,» John Paul II added.

The most serious incidents occurred in the province of Entre Ríos, north of Buenos Aires, and in suburbs of the Argentine capital, where the police used tear gas and rubber bullets to restrain dozens of people who had invaded small stores to get food.

The unrest followed a weekend of scattered supermarket lootings across the country. Argentinians are desperate after four years of recession that has pushed unemployment above 18%. The government has partially frozen accounts to halt a run on the banks, CNN reported.

Labor Minister José Dumón said over the radio that President Fernando de la Rúa has ordered the purchase of $7 million worth of food, for distribution through the Ministry of Social Development. Dumón appealed for calm.

According to official data, a third of Argentina´s 36 million inhabitants live under the poverty line; 2.53 million are unemployed, and 1.4 million are underemployed.

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