"In our world so troubled by the scourge of racial divisions and conflict, I encourage you and your fellow citizens to foster dialogue," the Pope said when receiving Clark in audience today.

"In acknowledging the fundamental God-given dignity of every person, dialogue leads to a recognition of diversity while opening the mind to the mutual acceptance and genuine collaboration demanded by the human family's basic vocation to unity," he told the leader of the Labor government.

The Holy Father, who visited New Zealand in 1986, added: "New Zealanders have always cherished the fundamental values of freedom, justice and peace. Indeed, in the face of aggression or threat, they have generously sought to defend and promote such rights in the Pacific and beyond."

About 12% of New Zealand's population of 3.9 million is Catholic.