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Pope discusses crisis with Merkel

German chancellor Angela Merkel, mindful of the importance of Christian voters in September elections, has met with Pope Francis during a quick trip to Rome which focused on helping victims of Europe's economic crisis and emphasising the continent's Christian roots.

Ms Merkel spoke privately for 45 minutes with the pope at the Apostolic Palace, after exchanging cordial greetings in German.

Her Christian Democrat party depends heavily on support from Protestant and Catholic voters, and the chat and photo opportunity could be a welcome campaign boost for a leader largely identified by Europe's economically suffering citizens as a champion of debt reduction, including painful austerity across much of the continent.

For its part, the Vatican is eager for allies in its campaign to win over more Catholics.

Francis was leading a rally of the faithful in St Peter's Square ton Saturday evening, attended by about 150,000 people. Most were from Europe but many came from the pope's native South America. They sang and prayed during an hours-long gathering ahead of the pope's appearance.

On Friday, Francis blasted what he called a "cult of money" in a global financial system that ends up tyrannising, not helping, the world's poor. Asked whether they had also talked about the pope's recent criticism, Ms Merkel said they spoke about the regulation of the financial markets.

Ms Merkel told reporters on the Vatican grounds: "The regulation of the financial markets is our central problem, our central task. We are moving ahead, but we are not yet where we want to be, where we could say that a derailment of the guard rails of social market won't happen again."

Ms Merkel added: "It ought to be like this: the economy is there to serve the people. In the last few years, this hasn't been the case at all everywhere."

The chancellor said the pope had stressed the world needs a strong and just Europe, and she described the overall conversation has encouraging.

Ms Merkel is currently campaigning for re-election in September's general elections. Half of Germany's population is Catholic. In Bavaria especially there is a strong conservative and Catholic tradition.

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