VATICAN CITY, DEC. 3, 2001 ( John Paul II today encouraged Poland´s entry into the European Union but said it should not be at the price of losing its national identity and traditions.

"It is right to aspire for Poland to have its due place in the political and economic realms of the structures of a united Europe," the Polish-born Pope said. "However, it is necessary that it be present as a state that has its own spiritual and cultural face, its own historical tradition inalienably linked to Christianity from the dawn of its history."

The Holy Father referred to the ongoing debate over the expansion of the European Community when he received the credential letters of Hanna Suchocka, Poland´s new ambassador to the Vatican.

"Poland cannot deprive itself of its tradition and national identity," he said. "In becoming a member of the European Community, the Republic of Poland must not lose any of its spiritual properties, which generations of our ancestors defended at the price of blood."

"In defending those values, the Church wishes to be an associate and ally of those who govern our country," the Pope explained.

In particular, the Catholic Church warns against the danger of "reducing the vision of Europe and considering it exclusively in its economic and political aspects, relating it acritically to a model of consumeristic life," John Paul II continued.

"If we want the new unity of Europe to be lasting, we must build on those spiritual values, which were once at its foundation, keeping in mind the richness and diversity of the cultures and traditions of each one of the nations," the Pope concluded.

The Pontiff described this project as "the great European Community of the Spirit."

Suchocka, the new ambassador, is a personal friend of John Paul II. From 1992 to 1993 she was president of the Council of Ministers, and from 1997 to 2000 Minister of Justice and Attorney General.

Since 1994, she has been a member of the Presidential Council of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences.