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Pope wants G8 leaders to 'hear the cry of the poor'

As Italy prepares for a summit of the world's richest nations, Pope John Paul II said on Sunday that the Christian message calls for "justice, solidarity and peace".

The Holy Father spoke from his Alpine vacation retreat, addressing some 4000 people gathered in the rain on a mountainside his only public appearance during a 12-day summer break.

The G8 summit, which opens on Friday in Genoa, will bring together the leaders of the United States, Russia, Japan, France, Germany, Britain, Italy and Canada. It will also attract tens of thousands of demonstrators who say globalisation comes at the expense of the Third World.

A week ago, John Paul urged the G8 leaders to "hear the cry of so many poor people" when discussing global policy at the summit.

The pope "is reflecting and praying so that the summit, opening in Italy, will mark the start of a new international attitude," spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls, said on Sunday.

The Vatican has played an active role in gathering support for initiatives aimed at helping poorer nations, such as a reduction in their debt burden - an issue that will be discussed by the G8 leaders will discuss. Roman Catholic activists are among those expected to join demonstrations in Genoa.

The 81-year-old pope was in good form on Sunday and clearly enjoying his stay in a mountainside cottage in Italy's western Alps near France.