VATICAN CITY, DEC. 19, 2001 ( John Paul II appealed to Christians to be witnesses of peace this Christmas, a time marked especially by conflicts in the Holy Land and Afghanistan.

"In a word, to invoke the coming of him who brings peace to the world means to open oneself with docility to the liberating truth and the renewing force of the Gospel," the Holy Father told the 7,000 pilgrims attending the general audience today.

The Pontiff dedicated his address to liturgical proposals offered by the Christmas novena, invitations "to conversion and to a docile welcome of the Christmas mystery."

"In the face of the tensions and violence that, unfortunately, also these days ravage various parts of the earth, including the Holy Land, unique witness of the mystery of the Birth of Jesus, it is necessary for us Christians to make the message of peace that comes from the cave in Bethlehem resound ever more forcefully," the Pope said in Paul VI Hall.

"We must be converted to peace; we must be converted to Christ, our peace, with the certainty that his disarming love in the manger overcomes every dark menace and plan of violence," the Holy Father explained.

"Is not this, in fact, the greeting we would like to exchange in the coming Christmas celebrations?" John Paul II asked. "Only in this way will Christmas be a feast of joy and encounter with the Savior who gives us peace."

"Christ is our peace," the Pope reiterated. "May his peace renew every ambit of our daily life. May it ... permeate families, so that before the crib or gathered around the Christmas tree, they will reinforce their faithful communion; may it reign in cities, nations, and in the international community and spread to every corner of the world."