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France Deports Roma (Gypsies) Drawing Pope's Criticism

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By Francis X. Rocca
Religion News Service

VATICAN CITY (RNS) In an apparent criticism of France's mass deportation of Roma (Gypsy) immigrants, Pope Benedict XVI on Sunday (Aug. 22) urged French-speaking Catholics to "accept legitimate human diversity" and practice "universal fraternity."

The pope made his remarks, which did not explicitly refer to the French policy, following his weekly Angelus prayer at the papal summer residence of Castel Gandolfo outside Rome.

Addressing "Francophone pilgrims" in their native language, Benedict noted the biblical teaching that "all men are called to salvation," and invited his listeners to "welcome legitimate human diversity, following Jesus who came to gather together men of every nation and every tongue."

"Dear parents, you can educate your children in universal fraternity," the pope said.

The French government's decision to deport 200 itinerant Roma to Bulgaria and Romania last week, citing their occupation of illegal camps in France, has drawn criticism from human rights activists and even Catholic leaders.

Archbishop Christophe Dufour of Aix-en-Provence and Arles denounced "security-based arguments that can give the impression that there are inferior populations."

The Rev. Arthur Hervet, a Catholic priest in the city of Lille, announced that he was praying that French President Nicolas Sarkozy would have a heart attack, in order to stop the deportations.