VATICAN CITY, APR. 3, 2001 ( John Paul II today proposed an ecumenical discussion with the evangelical world on the role of the Bishop of Rome.

The Holy Father made his proposal when he received a group of German Catholic and evangelical theologians who were ending a meeting in Rome.

The group includes about 40 experts, working to remove divisions, following the historic 1999 Catholic/Lutheran Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, the decisive issue in the schism caused by Martin Luther.

For John Paul II, the meeting in Rome of German Catholic and evangelical theologians is a sign of hope.

"Perhaps one day, with patient dialogue," the Pope said in good German, "it will be possible to find a formula through which the Petrine ministry will be recognized universally as a service to truth and love."

John Paul II was referring specifically to the role of the Bishop of Rome which he himself put up for discussion in its practical implementation, in his encyclical "Ut Unum Sint" (No. 95), but not in its original role of guarantor of ecclesial communion.

The Pope said he hopes for concrete help from the half-century-old German ecumenical group, now presided over by Cardinal Karl Lehmann. The group´s vice president is evangelical Bishop Harmut Lowe.