VATICAN CITY, FEB. 12, 2002 ( John Paul II urged Argentines toward national dialogue and a serious examination of conscience as indispensable means for overcoming their national crisis.

When meeting Monday with Argentina´s bishops at the end of their quinquennial "ad limina" visit to the Holy See, the Pontiff analyzed the nation´s plight juncture with hopeful but realistic words.

"Your country is undergoing a profound social and economic crisis that affects the whole society and, in addition, endangers the democratic stability and solidity of public institutions, with consequences that go beyond the homeland´s own frontiers," John Paul II said.

"In many homes even the most basic and indispensable is lacking, exposing so many people to a future full of risks and uncertainties," he noted.

The Holy Father said that this situation "should lead to a serious examination of conscience on the responsibilities of each one and the tragic consequences of egoism lacking in solidarity, of corrupt behavior reported by many, of lack of foresight and poor administration of the nation´s goods."

Plunged into a four-year recession, Argentina has endured the violent looting of shops and protests that last December forced then President Fernando de la Rúa to resign. The country has defaulted on payments of its public debt and has had to devalue its currency.

According to the Pope, "a profound moral crisis is at the root of that painful situation." Thus the first step to be taken is the "cultivation of moral values," John Paul II told Argentines.

In particular, he emphasized "austerity, the sense of equity and justice, the culture of work, and respect for the law and the given word."

The Pope explained that it is not up to the Church to give economic recipes for Argentina´s ills. However, he stressed, "this does not impede its offering its collaboration to encourage a national dialogue among all those in authority in order that each one will be able to cooperate actively to overcome the crisis."

The Catholic Church in Argentina, along with the United Nations, has become the guarantor of the process of national dialogue, launched by President Eduardo Duhalde on Jan. 14.

In this process of dialogue, the Church contributes to the field of debate with its "good offices," while the United Nations offers "technical assistance," the Pope continued.

"Dialogue excludes violence in its different expressions, such as deaths and looting, and helps to build a more human future with the cooperation of all, thus avoiding a radical impoverishment of the society," the Bishop of Rome warned.

"It is opportune to recall that the social situation does not improve just by applying technical measures but also, and above all, by promoting reforms with a human and moral foundation that keeps in mind an ethical appreciation of the individual, the family and society," the Holy Father explained.

The Pontiff, who just donated $100,000 to Caritas to foster commitment to this South American country, applauded the work of assistance of the Church in Argentina. In particular, he appealed to Catholics to look after the "retired, unemployed and those who have lost everything in the riots."