VATICAN CITY — The COVID-19 pandemic has shown how the Earth can recover "if we allow it to rest" and must spur people to adopt simpler lifestyles to help a planet "groaning" under the constant demand for economic growth, Pope Francis said Tuesday.

In his latest urgent appeal to help a fragile environment, Francis also renewed his call for the cancellation of the debts of the most vulnerable countries. Such action would be just, he said, since rich countries have exploited poorer nations' natural resources.

"In some ways, the current pandemic has led us to rediscover simpler and sustainable lifestyles," Francis said in a written message.

"Already we can see how the Earth can recover if we allow it to rest: the air becomes cleaner, the waters clearer, and animals have returned to many places from where they had previously disappeared," he wrote. "The pandemic has brought us to a crossroads."

The pontiff urged people to seize the opportunity to reflect on their habits of energy usage, consumption, transportation and diet.

Until now, "constant demand for growth and an endless cycle of production and consumption are exhausting the natural world," the pope said, adding, "Creation is groaning."

People must be aware of their rightful place in nature, never thinking themselves masters of what Francis described as the "interconnected web of life."

Disintegrating biodiversity, climate disasters and the "unjust impact of the current pandemic on the poor and the vulnerable" amount to a "wakeup call in the face of our rampant greed and consumption," the pope wrote.

Francis hailed "our indigenous brothers and sisters who live in harmony with the land and its multiple forms of life." He urged protection for these communities from companies, particularly multinational ones, which carry out "destructive extraction" of such resources as fossil fuels, minerals and timber.

Citing the medical, social and economic crises triggered by the pandemic, Francis said it was "time for restorative justice."

"We also need to ensure that the recovery packages being developed and deployed at global, regional and national levels must be regeneration packages," Francis said, without naming any particular nations or regions.

Drawing attention to Earth's fragility is a hallmark of Francis' papacy. He poignantly stressed people's pressing responsibilities to heal and care for the environment in a 2015 encyclical.

The pontiff issued his appeal on Tuesday to mark the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation, an annual occasion that was established for Christians in the wake of the encyclical Laudato Si'.

Francis invited all nations to "adopt more ambitious national targets to reduce emissions" harming the environment.