Page last updated at 21:43 GMT, Sunday, 17 August 2008 22:43 UK

Pope urges fight against racism

By David Willey
BBC News, Rome

Pope Benedict at his summer residence, Castel Gandolfo, on 15 August
Pope Benedict was speaking to pilgrims and tourists

Pope Benedict XVI has urged Christians to help society combat intolerance to foreigners amid a row over criticism of the government by Roman Catholics.

An article in the country's biggest circulation Catholic weekly magazine criticised the government's crackdown on illegal immigrants.

Talking at his summer residence near Rome, the Pope spoke of worrying displays of racism in some countries.

While he did not name them, he clearly intended to include Italy.

The Pope said that while racism was often tied to social and economic problems, these could never justify contempt or racial discrimination.

Taking his cue from an Old Testament passage about the duty of welcoming foreigners, the Pope said peace and justice could only be created in a world where every human person was respected.

Italian policeman at Roma squatter camp in Naples (file pic)
Roma immigrants have become a focus for extremists

There has been some lively discussion in Italy during the past week about the controversial article published in the popular Catholic weekly Famiglia Cristiana, which has a circulation of about 1m copies.

The article criticised some of the security measures recently taken by the new Silvio Berlusconi government to combat crime, such as the fingerprinting of Roma children.

Increased crime figures are perceived by many Italians as closely connected to the arrival of thousands of new immigrants each month, many of them smuggled into the country by boat from North Africa.

The article said the government's decision to bring troops on to the streets to help the police combat crime was "useless" and it talked about the rebirth of what it called "new forms of fascism".

There were protests by the government and the official Vatican spokesman later distanced both the Vatican and the Italian Catholic Bishops from the views expressed in Famiglia Cristiana, which is owned by a Catholic religious order and whose editor-in-chief is a Catholic priest.

Now the Pope himself has entered the fray, giving his own views on racial discrimination, and pointing out that this is by no means a development that concerns only Italy.

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