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Pope urges powerful to put people ahead of products in surprise TED Talk

Pope Francis made a surprise video address to the TED Conference in Vancouver, calling on the powerful to exhibit more solidarity, humility and tenderness toward others.

Video address recorded in Vatican City was shown to technology elite at TED Conference in Vancouver

Pope Francis surprised the TED audience with an 18-minute talk calling the powerful to be humble, or their power will lead to ruin. (Bret Hartman/TED)

Pope Francis made a surprise video address to the TED Conference in Vancouver Tuesday, calling on the powerful to exhibit more solidarity, humility and tenderness toward others.

"I am thrilled to be participating in your conference," the Pope said in an English translation of his remarks, which had been recorded earlier in Italian in Vatican City.

He swiftly launched into an 18-minute talk about influential people declining to help those in need, and a "culture of waste" that puts products ahead of people.

While spoken generally, his words have a particular resonance inside the TED auditorium, where his audience of 1,800 people includes the CEOs of some of the largest technology companies in the world, and the cheapest ticket runs $8,500 US for the week.

The Pope had not been listed in the official program. Organizers had only teased that a surprise "world figure" would speak.

When the surprise was revealed, the audience erupted in applause — and responded throughout to his message of conscience and compassion.

'Power is like drinking gin'

His remarks wove between religious passages, including the parable of the Good Samaritan, and reflections on his own life, coming from a migrant family that left Italy for Argentina.

Pope Francis waves at the end of the Easter mass in Saint Peter's Square at the Vatican April 16, 2017. (Stefano Rellandini/Reuters)

"I could have very well ended up among today's 'discarded' people," said Francis.

He has frequently spoken about the growing divide between the rich and poor, and the need to build a "dignified future" for refugees fleeing war and poverty.

Today's address went straight to those with the power, challenging them not to behave like the "influential people" in the tale of the Good Samaritan, who walked past a wounded man.

"[It] is the story of today's humanity ... everything is centred around money, and things, instead of people," he told them.

"There is this habit, by people who call themselves 'respectable,' of not taking care of the others, thus leaving thousands of human beings, or entire populations, on the side of the road."

The crowd laughed when he recalled a saying from Argentina: "Power is like drinking gin on an empty stomach," the Pope said.

"You feel dizzy, you get drunk, you lose your balance, and you will end up hurting yourself and those around you, if you don't connect your power with humility and tenderness."

Pope Francis, seen in this 2013 photo, made the audience laugh with a saying from Argentina where he lived: 'Power is like drinking gin on an empty stomach.' (Buda Mendes/Getty Images)

TED appearance 1 year in the making

This Pope is no stranger to online communication, sending regular messages to his 10 million Twitter followers and even jumping into Instagram last year.

The Vatican was not, however, very familiar with TED Talks before negotiations for the talk began more than a year ago.

"So there was a lot of explaining to do," Bruno Giussani, TED's international curator, said in a statement.

Giussani said several unnamed people were "generous with their access and contacts," and after several trips to Rome the video address was approved.

It was filmed in a small room lined with books in the Domus Sanctae Marthae, the guesthouse where Francis chose to live when he was elected in 2013, eschewing the more elegant papal apartments overlooking St. Peter's square.

Message of hope, solidarity

Francis framed his remarks as a wish for the future, echoing the theme of the conference, "The Future You."

"How wonderful would it be if solidarity — this beautiful and, at times, inconvenient word, were not simply reduced to social work, and became, instead, the default."

"I know that TED gathers many creative minds," he said.

"How wonderful would it be, while we discover faraway planets, to rediscover the needs of the brothers and sisters orbiting around us."