"Finally there has been a move by the G8 in that direction," the statement said. "The Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace welcomes the announcement by the governments of the world's eight most wealthy nations to cancel $40 billion in debt owed by 18 developing countries and the plan to expand the program of debt forgiveness to an additional 20 countries.

"The Council commends British Prime Minister Tony Blair for the initiative on the eve of the G8 Summit, as well as all of the leaders of the other governments who have agreed to it."

The debt cancellation program was announced Saturday in London.

Sign of solidarity

The pontifical council's statement continued: "However, the pontifical council also calls for the money that will now be freed to be used to bring about real and sustainable development opportunities to the people of those countries. This can be accomplished through providing necessary public goods such as clean water, safe sanitation, basic health care and educational opportunities.

"The decision to forgive the debts of those countries and move toward furthering the debt forgiveness for others is a clear sign of the solidarity that people of developed nations must have for those living in developing countries.

"It is the responsibility of the governments of all nations to continue to work toward achieving the promises that have been made over the past 30 years. This includes the commitment to provide 0.7% of the GDP of developed countries as Official Development Assistance to developing countries."

"The promise was made but only a small fraction of that money has ever been provided," indicated the Vatican statement. "This is the sort of program that should go hand in hand with debt relief. It is not enough to simply wipe away the debt. An increase in development aid should follow."