LOURDES, France — Pope Francis asked Catholics in France to ensure their parishes have "open door" policies so that anyone seeking a listening ear or a helping hand can find it in the church.
Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Vatican secretary of state, conveyed the pope's encouragement to some 12,000 French Catholics meeting at the Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes May 9-11 to discuss their care of the poor and the sick.
"The mission of the church is to bring the light of the risen Christ to the darkest places where suffering reigns in hearts and bodies," Cardinal Bertone's message said. "This is why the love of Christ impels us to care for those who suffer because of economic, social and psychological poverty.
"The world today is facing serious financial, economic and ecological crises that cause much suffering, particularly among the most vulnerable," the cardinal wrote. The roots of the crises, he said, are attitudes "where man is no longer viewed as an image of God."
Catholics' response to the crises, he said, must be love, kindness, compassion and a witness that reminds both individuals and governments that concern for the dignity of each human person must come first.
Celebrating the opening Mass of the gathering -- called "Diaconia 2013" -- Cardinal Robert Sarah, president of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, said, "It is not enough to give bread, shelter and better material conditions of life" when there are "many diseases and serious human miseries that threaten our humanity."
Christian charity includes trying to heal "societies dominated by a love for money and sex," societies where traditional marriage and family life are being destroyed, he said, calling on Christians to be "subversive and critical" when laws violate the common good.
France's National Assembly voted April 23 to enact the "Marriage for All" bill, which allows gay and lesbian couples to marry and adopt children. The legislation must be signed by President Francois Hollande to become law, however opponents have appealed to the Constitutional Court, hoping it will be overturned or modified before becoming law.