CAGLIARI, Sardinia — Pope Francis denounced what he called big business's idolatry of money as he traveled Sunday to one of Italy's poorest regions to offer hope to the unemployed and entrepreneurs struggling to hang on.

"Where there is no work, there is no dignity," he said.

Francis left aside his prepared remarks and spoke off the cuff to thousands of people in Sardinia's capital, telling them he knew well what it was like to suffer from financial crisis. He recalled that his Italian parents, who immigrated to Argentina before he was born, spoke about it often at home.

"My young father went to Argentina full of illusions of making it in America," a somber Francis told the crowd at the start of a daylong visit to the island. "And he suffered the terrible crisis of the 1930s. They lost everything. There was no work."

He said it's easy for a priest to come and tell the poor to have courage, but that he really meant it. Amid shouts of "Lavoro! Lavoro!" (Work! Work!), Francis called for a dignified work for all.

Sardinia, known for its pristine beaches and swank vacation homes, has been particularly hard-hit by Italy's economic crisis, with businesses closing and more and more of the island's families forced to seek charity. The island's desperation made headlines last year when a coal miner, participating in an underground sit-in to protest the planned closure of the mine, slashed his wrists on television.

Unemployment in Italy is at 12 percent, with youth unemployment a staggering 39.5 percent. In Sardinia and the rest of Italy's south and islands, the figures are even worse: Unemployment is nearing 20 percent, with youth unemployment at 50 percent.

Francis told the Sardinians, some of whom wore hardhats from their defunct factory jobs, that the economic problems were the result of a global economic system "that has at its center an idol called money."

Francis has made reaching out to the poor and most marginal the priority of his pontificate. This is only his second visit to an Italian city outside Rome; the first was to the isolated island of Lampedusa, where thousands of migrants come ashore each year.

Francis noted the similarity, saying both islands were places of immense suffering but also hope.

"It's easy to say `don't lose hope,'" he said. "But to all of you who have work, and to those who don't, let me tell you: Don't let yourselves be robbed of hope."

Later, Francis celebrated Mass in the piazza outside the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Bonaria, the island's patron and namesake of Francis' native Buenos Aires. The pope is particularly devoted to the Madonna and wanted to make a pilgrimage to the shrine.

After Mass, Francis met with the poor and some prisoners in the capital's cathedral, delivered a speech at the island's Catholic university and gave an off-the-cuff pep rally to young Sardinians gathered in a main square before returning to Rome.

He shared a personal detail with the kids, that Saturday had marked the 60th anniversary when he first felt the call to be a priest.

"In all these years that have passed, I've had some successes, joys, but also years of failure, fragility and sin," he said. "Sixty years on the path of the Lord."

In a sign that the exhausting day was starting to take its toll, Francis inadvertently slipped into his native Spanish in his final public remarks in Sardinia, which like many of Italy's regions has its own dialect.

"Hah," he chuckled. "Even I'm speaking dialect here."

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Winfield reported from Rome.

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Follow NicoleWinfield at www.twitter.com/nwinfield

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  • RETRANSMISSION TO PROVIDE ALTERNATIVE CROP - Pope Francis wears a coal miner's helmet he was given by a miner on the occasion of his one day visit to the island of Sardinia, in Cagliari, Italy, Sunday, Sept. 22, 2013. Pope Francis denounced what he called big business's idolatry of money as he traveled Sunday to one of Italy's poorest regions to offer hope to the unemployed and entrepreneurs struggling to hang on. "Where there is no work, there is no dignity," he said. Sardinia, known for its pristine beaches and swank vacation homes, has been particularly hard-hit by Italy's economic crisis, with businesses closing and more and more of the island's families forced to seek charity. The island's desperation made headlines last year when a coal miner, participating in an underground sit-in to protest the planned closure of the mine, slashed his wrists on television. (AP Photo/Str)

  • VATICAN-RELIGION-POPE

    Pope Francis (L) celebrates a mass in Cagliari on September 22, 2013. Pope Francis is in Sardinia for a one-day pastoral visit to meet workers, business representatives, prisoners, the poor, young people, leading representatives from the world of culture and the islands Catholic bishops. Pose Francis wished to visit the Marian Shrine of Bonaria ('Good air') because it gave his hometown of Buenos Aires its name. AFP PHOTO / ALBERTO PIZZOLI (Photo credit should read ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Pope Francis waves to the crowd from his pope-mobile as he arrives at the Sanctuary of the Madonna of Bonaria, to celebrate a mass on the occasion of his one day visit to the island of Sardinia, in Cagliari, Italy, Sunday, Sept. 22, 2013. Francis denounced what he called big business's idolatry of money over man as he traveled Sunday to one of Italy's poorest regions to offer hope to the unemployed and entrepreneurs struggling to hang on. Sardinia, known for its pristine beaches and swank vacation homes, has been particularly hard-hit by Italy's economic crisis, with factories closing and more and more of the island's families forced to seek charity. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

  • Pope Francis is flanked by Cagliari Archbishop Arrigo Miglio as he wears a coal miner's helmet he was given by a miner on the occasion of his one day visit to the island of Sardinia, in Cagliari, Italy, Sunday, Sept. 22, 2013. Pope Francis denounced what he called big business's idolatry of money as he traveled Sunday to one of Italy's poorest regions to offer hope to the unemployed and entrepreneurs struggling to hang on. "Where there is no work, there is no dignity," he said. Sardinia, known for its pristine beaches and swank vacation homes, has been particularly hard-hit by Italy's economic crisis, with businesses closing and more and more of the island's families forced to seek charity. The island's desperation made headlines last year when a coal miner, participating in an underground sit-in to protest the planned closure of the mine, slashed his wrists on television. (AP Photo/Str)

  • VATICAN-RELIGION-POPE

    Pope Francis celebrates a mass in Cagliari on September 22, 2013. Pope Francis is in Sardinia for a one-day pastoral visit to meet workers, business representatives, prisoners, the poor, young people, leading representatives from the world of culture and the islands Catholic bishops. Pose Francis wished to visit the Marian Shrine of Bonaria ('Good air') because it gave his hometown of Buenos Aires its name. AFP PHOTO / ALBERTO PIZZOLI (Photo credit should read ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP/Getty Images)

  • VATICAN-RELIGION-POPE

    Pope Francis celebrates a mass in Cagliari on September 22, 2013. The pope is on a one-day pastoral visit to Sardinia to meet workers, business representatives, prisoners, the poor, young people, leading representatives from the world of culture and the islands Catholic bishops. The pontiff wanted to visit the Marian shrine of Bonaria ('Good air') because it gave his hometown of Buenos Aires its name. AFP PHOTO / ALBERTO PIZZOLI (Photo credit should read ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP/Getty Images)

  • VATICAN-RELIGION-POPE

    Pope Francis arrives to celebrate a mass in Cagliari on September 22, 2013. The pope is on a one-day pastoral visit to Sardinia to meet workers, business representatives, prisoners, the poor, young people, leading representatives from the world of culture and the islands Catholic bishops. The pontiff wanted to visit the Marian shrine of Bonaria ('Good air') because it gave his hometown of Buenos Aires its name. AFP PHOTO / ALBERTO PIZZOLI (Photo credit should read ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP/Getty Images)

  • VATICAN-RELIGION-POPE

    Pope Francis (C) celebrates a mass in Cagliari on September 22, 2013. Pope Francis is in Sardinia for a one-day pastoral visit to meet workers, business representatives, prisoners, the poor, young people, leading representatives from the world of culture and the islands Catholic bishops. Pose Francis wished to visit the Marian Shrine of Bonaria ('Good air') because it gave his hometown of Buenos Aires its name. AFP PHOTO / ALBERTO PIZZOLI (Photo credit should read ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP/Getty Images)

  • VATICAN-RELIGION-POPE

    Youth attend the mass celebrated by Pope Francis in Cagliari on September 22, 2013. Pope Francis is in Sardinia for a one-day pastoral visit to meet workers, business representatives, prisoners, the poor, young people, leading representatives from the world of culture and the islands Catholic bishops. Pose Francis wished to visit the Marian Shrine of Bonaria ('Good air') because it gave his hometown of Buenos Aires its name. AFP PHOTO / ALBERTO PIZZOLI (Photo credit should read ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP/Getty Images)

  • VATICAN-RELIGION-POPE

    Pope Francis arrives to celebrate a mass in Cagliari on September 22, 2013. The pope is on a one-day pastoral visit to Sardinia to meet workers, business representatives, prisoners, the poor, young people, leading representatives from the world of culture and the islands Catholic bishops. The pontiff wanted to visit the Marian shrine of Bonaria ('Good air') because it gave his hometown of Buenos Aires its name. AFP PHOTO / ALBERTO PIZZOLI (Photo credit should read ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Pope Francis waves to the crowd from his pope-mobile in front of the Sanctuary of the Madonna of Bonaria, to celebrate a mass on the occasion of his one day visit to the island of Sardinia, in Cagliari, Italy, Sunday, Sept. 22, 2013. Francis denounced what he called big business's idolatry of money over man as he traveled Sunday to one of Italy's poorest regions to offer hope to the unemployed and entrepreneurs struggling to hang on. Sardinia, known for its pristine beaches and swank vacation homes, has been particularly hard-hit by Italy's economic crisis, with factories closing and more and more of the island's families forced to seek charity. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

  • People wave white and yellow Vatican flags as they wait for Pope Francis to arrive at the Sanctuary of the Madonna of Bonaria, to celebrate a mass on the occasion of his one day visit to the island of Sardinia, in Cagliari, Italy, Sunday, Sept. 22, 2013. Francis traveled Sunday to one of Italy's poorest regions to offer hope to the unemployed and entrepreneurs struggling to hang on. Sardinia, known for its pristine beaches and swank vacation homes, has been particularly hard-hit by Italy's economic crisis, with factories closing and more and more of the island's families forced to seek charity. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

  • Nuns listen to Pope Francis (not pictured) celebrating a Mass at the Sanctuary of the Madonna of Bonaria, to celebrate a mass on the occasion of his one day visit to the island of Sardinia, in Cagliari, Italy, Sunday, Sept. 22, 2013. Francis he traveled Sunday to one of Italy's poorest regions to offer hope to the unemployed and entrepreneurs struggling to hang on. Sardinia, known for its pristine beaches and swank vacation homes, has been particularly hard-hit by Italy's economic crisis, with factories closing and more and more of the island's families forced to seek charity. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

  • Pope Francis celebrates a Mass at the Sanctuary of the Madonna of Bonaria, to celebrate a mass on the occasion of his one day visit to the island of Sardinia, in Cagliari, Italy, Sunday, Sept. 22, 2013. Francis denounced what he called big business's idolatry of money over man as he traveled Sunday to one of Italy's poorest regions to offer hope to the unemployed and entrepreneurs struggling to hang on. Sardinia, known for its pristine beaches and swank vacation homes, has been particularly hard-hit by Italy's economic crisis, with factories closing and more and more of the island's families forced to seek charity. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

  • Preparation In Cagliari Before Pope Francis' Visit

    CAGLIARI, ITALY - SEPTEMBER 21: Friars, nuns and youth perform a flash mob dance on the eve of Pope Francis' visit on September 21, 2013 in Cagliari, Italy. Pope Francis heads to Cagliari on the Italian island of Sardinia September 22, for a pastoral visit that includes celebrating mass at the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Bonaria. The Pope announced in May that he wished to visit the Marian Shrine of Bonaria or 'Good Air' because his hometown of Buenos Aires its named after it. During his 10-hour visit to Cagliari, the Pope will also meet workers, business representatives, prisoners, the poor, young people, leading cultural representatives and the island's Catholic bishops. (Photo by Franco Origlia/Getty Images)