VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Benedict XVI on Sunday hailed this week's U.N. anti-racism conference and urged countries to join forces to eliminate intolerance, but he made no reference to the U.S. boycott of the meeting.

The conference beginning Monday in Geneva is an important initiative, the pope said, because "even today, despite the lessons of history, such deplorable phenomena take place."

Some countries are boycotting the meeting to protest language in the meeting's final document that they say could single out Israel for criticism and restrict free speech.

Among those countries is the United States. The State Department said Saturday that the Obama administration would not join the conference "with regret." But department spokesman Robert Wood said the U.S. was "profoundly committed to ending racism" and would work with all people and nations "to build greater resolve and enduring political will to halt racism and discrimination wherever it occurs."

Italy has also said it would skip the weeklong conference if changes are not made at the last minute. The Netherlands announced on Sunday that it would not go to the conference because some nations are using it as a platform to attack the West.

Benedict said he sincerely hoped that delegates who attend the conference work together, "with a spirit of dialogue and reciprocal acceptance, to put an end to every form of racism, discrimination and intolerance."

Such an effort, Benedict said, would be "a fundamental step toward the affirmation of the universal value of the dignity of man and his rights."

Benedict told pilgrims at the papal vacation retreat in Castel Gandolfo that the declaration, born out of the first world conference on racism in Durban, South Africa, in 2001, recognized that "all peoples and persons form one human family, rich in diversity."

But beyond such declarations, firm and concrete action is needed at national and international levels, he said.