VATICAN CITY (REUTERS) - Pope Francis married 20 couples on Sunday, some of whom had already lived together and had children, in the latest sign that the Argentine pontiff wants the Catholic church to be more open and inclusive.
In the first wedding he has performed in his 18-month-old papacy, Pope Francis took each couple through their vows in turn - including Gabriella and Guido, who already had children and thought such a marriage would be impossible, official broadcasting service Radio Vaticana said.
"The people getting married on Sunday are couples like many others," the diocese of Rome said in a statement. "Some already live together, some already have children."
The ceremony was the first of its kind in the Vatican since Pope John Paul II presided over a wedding in 2000, when he was the leader of the world's 1.3 billion Catholics.
Pope Francis, who is the first non-European pope in 1,300 years, has expressed tolerance regarding other topics that are traditionally taboo in the Church, asking "who am I to judge?" a gay person "who seeks God and has good will".
His approach contrasts with that of his predecessor, the German Pope Benedict, who said that threats to the traditional family undermined the future of humanity itself.
Bishops from all over the world are due to come to the Vatican in October for a major meeting on the family, which the Jesuit pope referred to in the homily to Sunday's Mass as the "bricks" on which society is built.
The bishops are expected to discuss issues such as marriage, divorce and contraception at the synod, from Oct 5-19.
The pope has said the Church must end its obsession with teachings on abortion, contraception and homosexuality, and become more merciful, or risk collapsing "like a house of cards".