Pope Benedict XVI called on world leaders Sunday to unite in efforts against poverty, including as a way to fight disease, and together with children sent two doves flying into St. Peter's Square in a symbol of peace.
From his studio window overlooking the square, Benedict offered a special greeting to those who suffer from leprosy and encouraged missionaries, health care personnel and volunteers who work in the field.
He noted that Sunday was World Day of Leprosy sufferers.
"Leprosy is a symptom of a more serious and vaster ill, which is poverty," Benedict said as he addressed pilgrims, tourists and a group of Italian Catholic children in the square.
"For this reason, following in the wake of my predecessors, I renew the appeal to leaders of nations so that they will unite their efforts to overcome the grave imbalances that still penalize a large part of humanity," Benedict said.
Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragan, the Vatican's top official for health issues, on Saturday urged international organizations and governments to develop more efficient networks to distribute free medicine and improve hygiene in fighting leprosy, an often disfiguring condition also known as Hansen's disease.
Leprosy affects hundreds of thousands of people worldwide.
Together with two children at his window, Benedict released a pair of doves into the square, and laughed when one of the white birds darted back inside his studio.
"The dove wants to stay with the pope but it will find its freedom," Benedict said, and one of the children gave the bird another push to fly. The birds did not go very far. They perched on a cornice just below the window on the Apostolic Palace.
Benedict told the children in the square that by always saying the truth "you will become builders of peace.", AP reported. V.A.