"Losing their freedom, people become enslaved, whether to the latest fads, or to power, money, or even deviant forms of religion," he said, laying the blame on "a culture of rejection" which leads to "the breakdown of society and spawning violence and death."
"We see painful evidence of this in the events reported daily in the news, not least the tragic slayings which took place in Paris a few days ago," he said in his yearly speech to the members of the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See.
The 78-year-old was speaking after France's bloodiest attacks in half a century, which began with a massacre at the offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, and ended with the deaths of four Jews in a kosher supermarket.
He pointed to "chilling repercussions" from conflicts in the Middle East and "the spread of fundamentalist terrorism in Syria and Iraq."
"This phenomenon is a consequence of the throwaway culture being applied to God.
"Religious fundamentalism, even before it eliminates human beings by perpetrating horrendous killings, eliminates God himself, turning him into a mere ideological pretext," he said.
Not for the first time, Francis called for "a unanimous response... within the framework of international law... to end the spread of acts of violence," and also urged the Muslim community to "condemn all fundamentalist and extremist interpretations of religion."
As Europe began a period of self-reflection on the roots and rise of home-grown terrorism, Francis touched on some of the possible social and cultural issues which may be driving the continent's disillusioned young to jihadism.
He pointed to "a model of globalization which levels out differences and even discards cultures, cutting them off from those factors which shape each people's identity and constitute a legacy essential to their sound social development."
"In a drab, anonymous world, it is easy to understand the difficulties and the discouragement felt by many people who have literally lost the sense of being alive," he said, with the economic crisis only serving to foster pessimism and social conflict.