Pope to politicians: Watch what you say, how you say it

Pope Francis makes the sign of the cross as he celebrates a New Year mass in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, Friday, Jan. 1, 2016. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis is asking politicians and even his own pastors to watch what they say and how they say it.

In his annual message to mark the church’s world day of social communications, Francis on Friday urged politicians and public opinion-makers in particular to be inspired by mercy.

He said they shouldn’t exploit others or situations to fan the flames of “mistrust, fear and hatred” with their words.

“Instead, courage is needed to guide people toward processes of reconciliation,” he wrote. “It is precisely such positive and creative boldness which offers real solutions to ancient conflicts and the opportunity to build lasting peace.”

His appeal seemed in part aimed at the anti-immigrant rhetoric swirling in Europe and the U.S.

Francis has proclaimed 2016 as a Holy Year of Mercy, to show the forgiving, merciful side of the church.

In his message, Francis also urged his own pastors to take that call to heart and make sure their own words correspond to his view of a welcoming, nonjudgmental church.

“May our way of communicating help to overcome the mindset that neatly separates sinners from the righteous,” he said. “We can and we must judge situations of sin – such as violence, corruption and exploitation — but we may not judge individuals, since only God can see into the depths of their hearts.”

“Harsh and moralistic words and actions risk further alienating those whom we wish to lead to conversion and freedom, reinforcing their sense of rejection and defensiveness,” he said.

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