Pope Francis called on his Cambodian flock to ‘look beyond religion’ to fight poverty

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — Pope Francis continued his first visit to Asia this week as he wrapped up a two-day stop in Cambodia on Wednesday morning by urging his fellow Catholics to shed their “walls of fear.”

Francis and Cambodian King Norodom Sihamoni met privately in a private room at the Royal Palace, according to papal spokesman Greg Burke.

The focus of the tour has been in the Buddhist-majority country of Cambodia and on the Cambodian Catholic Church.

SINCE HIS VISIT ON Monday, Francis has held a Mass on the grounds of the Sisophon Monastery, a well-known Buddhist shrine. The pope was greeted on Tuesday by a large crowd of people outside the Sisophon Monastery.

After his homily at the Monastery, the pope will travel to the same location where he will open the St. Michael’s Cathedral in the capital city of Phnom Penh.

Throughout his trip to Southeast Asia, the pope has addressed issues including climate change, nuclear weapons and protection of the environment. His latest comments are about the need to look beyond religion to drive positive change in society.

“Given the situation in the world, we must develop a profound sense of responsibility for others, even if we do not understand what they are feeling or experiencing, because God shows us how one must help those who are in distress,” Francis said.

His remarks today came at a time when Cyprus remains divided by an 11-year conflict over the Turkish-held north, which rejects the country’s internationally recognized government.

The civil war in the island nation has left an estimated 100,000 people dead, thousands of others missing and millions displaced. There is also a significant poverty gap between the Greek Cypriot south and the Turkish Cypriot north, and there is a lack of opportunity for young people who have exhausted their education in one of the poorest countries in Europe.

Francis during his reception at the Royal Palace on Wednesday paid tribute to Christians and Catholics in Cyprus who have been killed or suffered “the most difficult suffering” during the war.

The pope, who leads 1.2 billion Catholics worldwide, urged the royal family to safeguard “the interests of the entire people of the island” during his brief remarks at the palace.

The pope’s visit to Cambodia is an opportunity for him to recognize and console more than 2 million Catholics in Cambodia and the millions more abroad, the Catholic faithful have said.

Francis will visit Thaklong Citadel, a site of Biblical importance for its Roman baths, today before he travels to the Chinese city of Chengdu. He will spend the rest of his July 13-15 trip in Laos.

His next foreign stop will be in Vietnam.

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