VATICAN CITY, DEC. 4, 2001 ( John Paul II expressed concern about the poverty and social injustice in Honduras when he received the nation´s bishops in audience today.

The Pontiff said the economic situation of Honduras highlights the contrast between the material resources and fertility of the land and the "need to improve the social order, by promoting greater justice."

He recommended "structures that favor a more equitable distribution of goods," to "avoid having a few citizens having so many resources in detriment of the great majority."

Cardinal Óscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga of Tegucigalpa greeted the Pope on behalf of the bishops of the Central American country of 6.4 million people. The Holy Father visited Honduras in 1983.

The Pope fears that, to the injustice in Honduran society "will be added the isolation of the poorest who, locked in their own world, lose hope in a better society."

"Because of this the country suffers when peasants feel marginalized, when Indian ethnic groups and citizens most in need of protection, such as children and youths, are forgotten and abandoned to their fate," the Pope explained.

Therefore, he said, "it is urgent to promote real justice, because to ignore this exigency might foster the temptation of violent response on the part of victims of injustice."

"The Church must be attentive to the clamor of the neediest," he told the bishops. "Hearing their voice, the Church must live with the poor and share in their sufferings.

"It must not be forgotten that concern for the social is part of the Church´s evangelizing mission and that human development is part of evangelization, because the latter tends toward the integral liberation of the person."

Hence, the Pope invited Honduras´ bishops "to insist on preferential option for the poor, neither exclusive nor excluding, also programming pastoral activities in villages and rural zones."

"Poor and marginalized people have a right to feel the special closeness of their pastors," the Holy Father concluded.