Pope Francis urged political leaders to listen to protesters and heed their calls for political and social change, an apparent reference to protests in Belarus against the country's authoritarian president. Francis didn't mention Belarus or any country in his appeal Sunday during his noontime prayer, but his comments came as the Vatican foreign minister, Archbishop Paul Gallagher, traveled to Belarus to meet with church and civil authorities amid weeks of anti-government protests, the AP reports. "While I urge protesters to make their demands known peacefully ... I appeal to all those with public and governmental responsibilities to listen to the voice of their fellow citizens and to meet their just aspirations by ensuring full respect for human rights and civil liberties," Francis said.
The pope also has spoken out in support of anti-racism protests in the US. Meanwhile, Protesters in Belarus have spent a month denouncing the results of the country's Aug. 9 presidential election as rigged and demanding the resignation of President Alexander Lukashenko. Facing criticism from the West, Lukashenko has worked to cement ties with his main sponsor, Russia. The Vatican would be loath to criticize Russia or Belarus publicly, given its longstanding efforts to improve relations with the influential Russian Orthodox Church. On Friday, the Vatican stressed the religious nature of Gallagher's visit. It said he was going to Belarus "to demonstrate the attention and proximity of the Holy Father to the Catholic Church and the entire country." (Read more Pope Francis stories.)