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Pope leaves Vatican to 'fix our defects'

Pope Francis is getting away from the Vatican for a few days and taking his advisers along, to work, as he put it, on fixing the "many defects we all have".

Francis (inset) told tens of thousands of Romans, tourists and pilgrims in St Peter's Square that he and top aides will begin a spiritual renewal retreat today. They will spend time listening to reflections, meditating and praying in Ariccia, a Rome suburb until Friday morning.

The pope said that amid "the noise, the confusion," one hears "only superficial voices". During the retreat "we can listen to the voice of Jesus and also correct so many defects we all have," he said.

Inviting prayers, Francis said the time away from the Vatican will also help participants "face the temptations that attack us every day".

He didn't list the "defects" he says needs fixing. But in the nearly two years since becoming pontiff, Francis has put prelates on guard against careerism, arrogance, hypocrisy, corruption and being too judgmental instead of merciful.

Francis said "spiritual conversion and growth starts from the heart. It's there that the match of daily choices between good and evil, worldliness and Gospel, indifference and sharing gets played".

The retreat means Francis won't hold his traditional weekly public audience on Wednesday.