Pope encourages religious leaders to appeal for humanitarian needs over weapons Pope Francis hosted an ecumenical prayer service with religious and world leaders in Rome, calling on the world to spend money on food and vaccines rather than military needs.

Pope encourages religious leaders to appeal for humanitarian needs over weapons

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Pope Francis closed an annual meeting of world religious leaders with an appeal for a drop in military spending, in favor of humanitarian needs. NPR's Sylvia Poggioli reports the pope spoke alongside leaders of Islam, Judaism and other faiths.


UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Singing in non-English language).

SYLVIA POGGIOLI, BYLINE: The interfaith ceremony took place at the foot of Rome's ancient Colosseum. The theme of the encounter was peoples as brothers, future Earth, signaling the pope's deep concern for the fate of the planet. And in his speech, he called for a demilitarization of our hearts.


POPE FRANCIS: (Non-English language spoken).

POGGIOLI: Fewer arms and more food, the pope said. Less hypocrisy and more transparency. More vaccines distributed fairly, he added, and fewer weapons marketed indiscriminately. Earlier, Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, president of the Conference of European Rabbis, pointed to the interfaith prayer's backdrop, the place where ancient Romans once enjoyed brutal mass entertainments.


PINCHAS GOLDSCHMIDT: What a picture in contrast with what this Colosseum represented more than 2,000 years ago, where men fought men, where animals fought men, just to provide family entertainment.

POGGIOLI: Echoing the rabbi, Francis lamented that fratricidal spectacles continue.


FRANCIS: (Non-English language spoken).

POGGIOLI: Today, we too, can be spectators of violence and war, of brothers killing brothers, he said. Like games we watch from a safe distance, indifferent, certain that they will never affect us. The speakers included a layperson, outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Speaking through an interpreter, she said attention must be focused on those who suffer most.


CHANCELLOR ANGELA MERKEL: (Through interpreter) I come from a country that has learnt the lessons of the past - of its past, so it is my hope that we may all continue to be open in a spirit of tolerance.

POGGIOLI: Earlier this week, the religious leaders signed an appeal to pressure governments to commit to ambitious targets at next month's U.N. climate conference in Scotland. The pope pushed the point home, saying the Earth we inhabit bears the scars of insatiable greed, and religions are called to listen to the groans of Mother Earth, which suffers violence.

Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News, Rome.


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