CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy – Pope John Paul II (search) denounced the "imbalance" between the world's rich and poor Sunday and applauded efforts to eliminate hunger, like the recent U.N. initiative to increase funds for development.
The 84-year-old pontiff had to stop for breath every few words as he spoke to a few hundred pilgrims and tourists in his last Sunday appearance this season at his summer palace in the hill town of Castel Gandolfo. John Paul has Parkinson's disease (search), making it difficult for him to walk and to pronounce his words.
The pontiff said Sunday's Gospel passage about Lazarus, an impoverished beggar who ate the scraps from a rich man's table, was "ever more appropriate in reference to the problem of the imbalance between the riches and poverty of the world today."
On Monday, the presidents of Brazil and France encouraged 110 countries to back a new declaration to fight hunger and poverty and to increase funds for development. More than 50 heads of state or government joined in a debate at the United Nations on the impact of globalization and on ways to finance the war on poverty.
John Paul called the U.N. meeting important and said it was aimed at "a more united and efficient action against hunger and poverty." He noted the Vatican's No. 2 official, Cardinal Angelo Sodano (search), who is the city-state's secretary of state, participated in the debate and pledged the Holy See's support for the initiative.
The United States didn't join in the pledge to fight hunger and poverty. The Bush administration objected to proposals for international taxes as undemocratic and impossible to implement.
John Paul reiterated his Church's backing.
"The Catholic Church assures all its commitment to eradicating the scourge of hunger and the other consequences of poverty from the world," the pope said.
He prayed that God would "sustain the efforts of the international community aimed at justice and solid development. This, in fact, is the path which can guarantee to the world a future of peace."
John Paul also offered prayers on prayers for families and populations "most tried by the unfair distribution of wealth that God destines for all his children."
While the pope struggled with his brief speech Sunday, he announced he was forging ahead with his grueling schedule. After again taking up residence at the Vatican on Wednesday, he will lead a long beatification ceremony on Oct. 3 in St. Peter's Square.