Marking the Italian Catholic Church's Day for Life, Pope Benedict urged the faithful to develop a new respect for life, for the sick and the handicapped, as well as the healthy. His call comes as Italian Catholic bishops have renewed a battle against abortion and what is known as the abortion pill.

Pope Benedict made a strong call for the defense of human life, as pro-life movements waved green balloons in Saint Peter's Square. Standing among the crowd to mark the Day for Life was the head of the Italian bishops' conference, Cardinal Camillo Ruini.

The pope's words echoed a recent statement by the Italian bishops' conference, which stressed the respect for human life must be a priority. The pope cited his predecessor's encyclical Evangelium Vitae, which strongly condemned abortion, euthanasia and research using human embryos.

"Every human life, as such," he said, "deserves to be always defended and promoted."

Earlier, during a mass at the Saint Ann parish inside the Vatican, Pope Benedict said people today wrongly think that modern man is the master of life, when he is only the custodian. He added that life depends on God, and, without God, life disappears.

With general elections just more than two months away in Italy, abortion has become a campaign issue for the first time since 1981. Then, Italians upheld the law allowing abortion in a referendum the church sponsored in an effort to overturn the law.

Pope Benedict recently told Italian officials, doctors should not give out what is known as the abortion pill. Cardinal Ruini has told voters they should consider issues such as abortion when choosing which candidate they will vote for in the elections.

In other comments made by the pope on Saturday, he condemned the violent reaction and protests against cartoons depicting Islam's Prophet Mohammed. But the Vatican also issued a statement condemning the publication of the cartoons in European newspapers.

The Vatican said that the right to freedom of thought and expression could not include the right to offend the religious sentiments of believers, whatever their religion.