VATICAN CITY, NOV. 16, 2001 ( John Paul II said Thailand´s Buddhist monastic tradition could help spur dialogue with Christianity and be a "counterbalance to the materialism and consumerism" of modern society.

The Holy Father today told the bishops of Thailand, in Rome for their "ad limina" visit, that the Buddhist and Christian monastic traditions might be an interesting "point of contact" to respond to the prevailing materialism.

In his address at the end of the bishops´ visit, the Pope acknowledged that "evangelization in Asia, a continent shaped by ancient cultures and religious traditions, presents particular challenges."

Of Thailand´s 62 million inhabitants, 95% are Buddhists, and 3.8% Muslims. Only 265,000 are Catholic.

In this context, the Holy Father explained, the "Church accomplishes her missionary task in obedience to Christ´s command, in the knowledge that every person has the right to hear his saving message in all its fullness."

The Church must carry out this task "with respect and esteem for her listeners, taking account of their philosophical, cultural and spiritual values, and engaging in dialogue with them," the Pope continued.

According to the Pontiff, in Thailand, as well as in the rest of Asia, "the question of interreligious dialogue is a pressing one."

"Contact, dialogue and cooperation with the followers of other religions represent both a duty and a challenge for you," the Pope told the Thai bishops. "Thailand´s ancient monastic tradition should provide a point of contact and fellowship, which can foster fruitful dialogue between Buddhists and Christians."

"That tradition is a reminder of the primacy of the things of the spirit and should act as a counterbalance to the materialism and consumerism that affect such a large part of society," John Paul II explained.

He added, however, that dialogue does not imply the loss of one´s identity. This is why Christians must proclaim the "truths of the faith, which form the content and context of this missionary task," the Pope said.

These truths "are the doctrine of Jesus as the one Savior of the world and the Church as the necessary instrument of God´s redemptive plan," the Holy Father stressed.

"These are the truths that must be proclaimed in a reasoned and convincing manner, so as to invite those who hear them to ponder them with an open heart," the Pontiff emphasized.

According to the Pope, at "the beginning of the new millennium the Church in Thailand is being challenged to present the mystery of Christ in a way that corresponds to your people´s cultural patterns and ways of thinking, by drawing on the positive elements of Thailand´s great human patrimony."

John Paul II alerted the bishops that "the process of inculturation calls for careful discernment on your part to ensure that the principles of compatibility with the Gospel and communion with the universal Church are fully respected."

The Pope continued: "Inculturation is more than external adaptation, for it entails the intimate transformation of authentic cultural values through their integration into Christianity, and the insertion of Christianity in the various human cultures."

He concluded that the challenge facing the Thai bishops is to make "the truths and values of the Gospel ... seen ever more clearly as responding to your people´s genuine spiritual and human needs and aspirations."