VATICAN CITY, JAN. 14, 2002 ( Families, particularly the neediest, must be the priority of political leaders, John Paul II said today when he met with Roman politicians.

"It is especially urgent to help young couples so that they will be able to face marriage with serenity and assume their responsibilities in the education of their children," the Holy Father said.

The audience, held on the occasion of the New Year, was attended by Walter Veltroni, mayor of Rome, and Francesco Storace, president of the Latium Region, to which the Eternal City belongs.

The Pontiff applauded the legislative measures approved by the region last year, to offer help "in favor of the family founded on marriage, which represents the fundamental framework of reference of individuals and the whole community."

John Paul II stressed that another priority of political leaders must be "the children, young boys and youths." He called for the authorities´ recognition of the "social and educational function of parishes."

In regard to the situation of poor people, the Pope appealed for attention "to the problems linked to the aging of the population" to "protect the elderly, in particular those who must live alone, so that at least they are not lacking in essential services."

In the second place, John Paul II called on political leaders to address situations "of partial or total poverty and marginalization," made up to a large extent "by immigrants."

The Holy Father said that regional and local administrations must ensure that "an efficient health system, worthy of the dignity of the person" be offered. In this connection, the Pope also appealed for the contribution of Catholic institutions.