Pope urges dialogue with Islam, more help for the poor

Fri Mar 22, 2013 10:45am EDT
 
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By Philip Pullella

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope Francis urged the West on Friday to intensify dialogue with Islam and appealed to the world to do more to combat poverty and protect the environment.

Speaking in Italian, the new pontiff said richer countries should fight what he called "the spiritual poverty of our times" by re-forging links with God.

"How many poor people there still are in the world! And what great suffering they have to endure!" he told the diplomats in the Vatican's frescoed Sala Regia.

Some critics of the Catholic Church, which has been struggling with scandals and internal divisions, say its rejection of contraception in particular harms the poor.

Others say it does much good in the developing world, running thousands of hospitals, schools, orphanages and hospices.

Francis made his appeal in an address to diplomats accredited to the Vatican, sending a message through them to the leaders of the 180 states with which the Vatican has diplomatic relations.

He urged them to help keep religion central in public life and promote inter-religious dialogue as a catalyst for efforts to build peace.

"In this work (peace building), the role of religion is fundamental. It is not possible to build bridges between people while forgetting God," he said.   Continued...

 
Pope Francis greets foreign diplomats during an audience with the diplomatic corps at the Vatican March 22, 2013. REUTERS/Tony Gentile