By John Thavis, Catholic News Service
VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Pope Benedict XVI appealed for greater efforts to end economic injustice in the world and released two white doves from his apartment window as a symbol of peace.
With two Italian children by his side, the pope laughed as one of the birds flew back inside his apartment. "The dove wants to stay with the pope, as you see. But it will find freedom," the pontiff said as an aide relaunched the bird.
The scene Jan. 29 was bittersweet for the thousands of young Italians who had marched for peace to St. Peter’s Square. A year ago, Pope John Paul II set the doves free in one of his last public appearances, laughing with the children as the birds flew in and out of his open window.
The next day the frail pope was taken to the hospital for flu complications. He died two months later. Pope Benedict looked pleased to continue his predecessor’s tradition. He told the young people that if they want to become peacemakers they should "learn to always say and do the truth."
The pope also marked World Leprosy Day, encouraging missionaries and church health care workers who assist many of the estimated 500,000 people afflicted with leprosy, also known as Hansen’s disease.
"Leprosy is a symptom of a more serious and more vast evil, which is poverty," the pope said. "For this reason, like my predecessors, I renew my appeal to the leaders of nations to unite their efforts to overcome the serious imbalances that still penalize a large part of humanity."
In a separate message, Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragan, head of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Ministry, encouraged international agencies to organize health care teams to work in the most heavily afflicted areas of the world, diagnosing leprosy in time for effective treatment.
Cardinal Lozano pointed to progress in fighting leprosy in recent years. The World Health Organization has reported a significant decline in the number of new cases of leprosy since 2002.
The cardinal added, however, that the scientific and medical advances in treating and preventing leprosy have still failed to reach people in parts of the developing world.
The countries with the greatest number of leprosy cases are India and Brazil, according to WHO statistics.