VATICAN CITY, JUNE 24, 2002 ( John Paul II appealed to the European Convention "to acknowledge and safeguard those values that constitute the most precious heritage of European humanism."

The Pope´s appeal was expressed in a message sent to the 250 participants in a four-day congress in Rome which focused on a key question: "Toward a European Constitution?" The congress ended Sunday.

The meeting gathered leading figures of Christian humanism in Europe. It was inaugurated by Italian President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi and organized by the Diocese of Rome, in cooperation with the Commission of Episcopates of the European Union and the Federation of Catholic Universities of Europe.

The European Convention, which began its working sessions Feb. 28, aims to set up the constitutional and institutional framework of the future Europe.

In this context, John Paul II articulated in his message the values that a possible European Constitution and institutions would have to respect: "the dignity of the person; the sacred character of human life; the central role of the family founded on marriage; the importance of education; freedom of thought, word and profession of one´s convictions and religion."

Other values of the social doctrine of the Church that the Pope proposed for the new Europe are "legal protection of individuals and groups; cooperation of all in the common good; work considered as a personal and social good; political power understood as service, subject to law and reason, and ´limited´ by the rights of the individual and of peoples."

According to the Holy Father, the Church, while respecting a "correct conception of the laicism of political institutions," cannot remain indifferent in the face of the values that inspire the institutional options that will characterize the future European Union. What is more, he insists, it has the "right-duty" to offer its "specific contribution."

John Paul II explained that there are multiple cultural roots "that have contributed to the affirmation" of these values: from the Greek civilization to the Roman, without neglecting the contribution of the Latin, Celtic, Germanic, Slav, Hungarian and Scandinavian peoples, as well as the contribution of the Jewish and Muslim world.

"These different factors found in the Judeo-Christian tradition found a force capable of harmonizing, consolidating and promoting them. In recognizing this historical fact in the current process toward institutional ordering, Europe will not be able to ignore its Christian heritage," the Pope explained.

"A good part of what Europe has produced in the juridical, artistic, literary and philosophic fields has been influenced by the evangelical message," he said. He requested the recognition and safeguarding of the "specific identity and the social role of the Churches and religious confessions."

This view will facilitate comprehension that "political institutions and public powers" are not something absolute, because above them is the human person´s "belonging" to God, "whose image has remained indelibly imprinted in the very nature of every man and woman," the Holy Father continued.

"Without this, there is nothing, and there is a risk of legitimizing those orientations of laicism and agnostic and atheistic secularism that lead to the exclusion of God and of the moral law from the different ambits of human life," the Pope concluded. "Civil coexistence in the Continent would be, in the first place, what would tragically pay for the consequences, as the European experience itself has demonstrated."