VATICAN CITY, JUNE 1, 2001 ( John Paul II gave special encouragement today to the work of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions, and warned of modern man´s temptation to design a "self-service" religion.

The Holy Father told the missionaries´ superiors that "the spirituality of communion is the most genuine witness you can give the world."

PIME, one of the Church´s largest missionary endeavors, has 569 religious, including 496 priests. Its members are dedicated exclusively to the missions, primarily in Asia and Africa.

During his address, the Pope thanked the institute for its work, and pointed out the challenges that the missionaries must face.

"I am thinking, for example, of the emergence of new planetary views like globalization, ethnocentrism, the temptation to design a ´self-service´ religion," he said. "I am thinking of the opposition of many countries to the presence of missionaries carrying out direct evangelization."

Given these challenges and the lack of priests, the Holy Father requested PIME to appreciate the laity´s involvement in the missionary endeavor, and to be aware of the need to re-evangelize the oldest local Churches.

"New evangelization is also needed in countries formerly evangelized, not to mention [the need] of a first proclamation," he said.

Among the 45 participants in the assembly were PIME´s new directors, elected over the past few days.

Father Gianbattista Zanchi, the new superior general, greeted the Holy Father, and highlighted the underlying topic of PIME´s assembly: to reaffirm the identity of missionaries, so that they will be willing to go to outlying posts, especially where the Church meets with restrictions to its freedom and activity for political or historical reasons.

Also at the audience were Father Enrico Fidanza and Father Alberto Caccaro, who afterward were leaving as missionaries for Cambodia.