VATICAN CITY, JAN. 17, 2003 ( The family must be the key concern of social politics, says John Paul II.

The Pope expressed his conviction when meeting with the administrators of both the city and province of Rome, and the region of Lazio for the traditional January exchange of New Year greetings.

Earlier Thursday he had received the mayor of Rome, Walter Veltroni, and the presidents of the province, Silvano Moffa, and the region, Francesco Storace.

The Holy Father voiced his concern for "the crisis of many families, from the scarcity of births to the consequent aging of the population."

He asked that there must be collaboration between the Church and civil institutions, particularly in creating "a renewed awareness of the importance and sacredness of family ties, as well as the joy that accompanies the birth and education of children."

"The family founded on matrimony must be a privileged object of social politics," he insisted.

John Paul II emphasized the attention that public administrators must give to the economic sector, with special reference to jobs and unemployment.

He added that "the high number of immigrants that have been able in recent months to regularize their work situation confirms that there is a dynamism in our society that needs to be better understood and made use of."

The Pontiff also asked for the commitment of all political leaders to avoid a war in the Middle East.

"Precisely when the dangers of conflicts among nations and cultures grow, emerges the clear and urgent mission of love, and therefore of peace, reciprocal understanding and reconciliation that is proper to Christianity and that thus corresponds to the historical vocation of Rome, the center of Catholicism," he said.