VATICAN CITY, DEC. 2, 2002 ( In his message for World Day of Migrants and Refugees, John Paul II appeals to Catholic communities to help overcome all forms of racism, xenophobia and exaggerated nationalism.

To achieve this objective, the Church must become a model of acceptance of every person, conscious of the fact that membership "in the Catholic community is not determined by nationality, or by social or ethnic origin, but essentially by faith in Jesus Christ and baptism in the name of the Holy Trinity," the Pope says in the message.

In the message, whose motto is "For a Commitment to Overcome All Racism, Xenophobia and Exaggerated Nationalism," John Paul II states that the "'cosmopolitan' makeup of the People of God is visible today in practically every particular Church because migration has transformed even small and formerly isolated communities into pluralist and intercultural realities. Places that until recently rarely saw an outsider are now home to people from different parts of the world."

In this context, the Pope explains that "Church understands that restricting membership of a local community on the basis of ethnic or other external characteristics would be an impoverishment for all concerned, and would contradict the basic right of the baptized to worship and take part in the life of the community."

"Moreover, if newcomers feel unwelcome as they approach a particular parish community because they do not speak the local language or follow local customs, they easily become 'lost sheep,'" he observes.

The "loss of such 'little ones' for reasons of even latent discrimination should be a cause of grave concern to pastors and faithful alike," the Holy Father adds.

The papal message for next years' World Day of Migrants and Refugees, which is celebrated on various days according to countries, is addressed both to those who welcome as well as to those who are welcomed.

To the first, the Holy Father says that only "genuine evangelical love will be strong enough to help communities pass from mere tolerance of others to real respect for their differences. Only Christ's redeeming grace can make us victorious in the daily challenge of turning from egoism to altruism, from fear to openness, from rejection to solidarity."

John Paul II asks the immigrants "to recognize the duty to honor the countries which receive them and to respect the laws, culture and traditions of the people who have welcomed them. Only in this way will social harmony prevail."

Difficulties can arise in this relation. And when "tensions arise," the Pope says, "the credibility of the Church in her doctrine on the fundamental respect due to each person rests on the moral courage of pastors and faithful to 'stake everything on love.'"

The Holy Father concludes with an appeal to Catholics and all Christians to join their efforts "to form societies in which the cultures of migrants and their special gifts are sincerely appreciated, and in which manifestations of racism, xenophobia and exaggerated nationalism are prophetically opposed."