updated 6/21/2009 6:44:41 PM ET 2009-06-21T22:44:41

Pope Benedict XVI said Sunday that countries must continue receiving refugees despite the difficulties they create while also addressing the causes that drive so many people from their homes.

Italy has been battling waves of illegal migrants and has enacted a controversial accord with Libya under which it turns back refugees intercepted at sea before they can reach Italian shores to apply for asylum.

Vatican officials, the U.N. refugee agency and aid groups have denounced the new policy.

Benedict did not specify Italy in his comments marking the U.N. World Refugee Day, which was celebrated Saturday, making his appeal more general to all countries that deal with refugees.

"Many people seek refuge in countries fleeing situations of war, persecution and calamity, and their reception creates not a few problems" for the receiving countries, he said. But he stressed that welcoming them was "still right."

Benedict spoke during a pilgrimage Sunday to San Giovanni Rotondo in southern Italy to pray before the remains of St. Pio of Petrelcina, the hugely popular Italian saint who purportedly bore "stigmata," or wounds like those Jesus suffered at his crucifixion.

Tens of thousands of the faithful braved thunderstorms to attend an open-air Mass in front of the Renzo Piano-designed church built to cater to the throngs of pilgrims who visit Padre Pio's shrine each year.

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