VATICAN CITY, FEB. 4, 2003 ( John Paul II urged Catholic hospitals to reflect on their identity so that they will be "centers of life and hope," including at the financial and administrative levels.

The Pope made this appeal in his message written for the 2003 World Day of the Sick, whose principal celebrations will be held next Tuesday in Washington, D.C.

His message, published today by the Vatican, considers that the witness of communion between pastors and people who work in the health care ministry is "particularly urgent in Catholic hospitals, called to reflect this ever better in their organization."

"This is of particular importance in Catholic hospitals, which in responding to modern needs are called upon to reflect ever more clearly in their policies the values of the Gospel, as the magisterium's social and moral guidelines insist," the message continues.

"This requires united involvement on the part of Catholic hospitals in every sector, including that of finance and administration," it adds.

The above will be among the main topics of the World Day, which will be held Feb. 9-11. The papal legate will be Archbishop Javier Lozano Barragán, president of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers.

"Catholic hospitals should be centers of life and hope which promote -- together with chaplaincies -- ethics committees, training programs for lay health workers, personal and compassionate care of the sick, attention to the needs of their families, and a particular sensitivity to the poor and the marginalized," the papal message continues.

"Professional work should be done in a genuine witness to charity, bearing in mind that life is a gift from God, and man merely its steward and guardian," it adds.

"This truth," the message continues, "should be continuously repeated in the context of scientific progress and advances in medical techniques which seek to assist and improve the quality of human life. Indeed, it remains a fundamental precept that life is to protected and defended, from its conception to its natural end.

"Thus it is never licit to kill one human being in order to save another. And while palliative treatment in the final stage of life can be encouraged, avoiding a 'treatment at all costs' mentality, it will never be permissible to resort to actions or omissions which by their nature or in the intention of the person acting are designed to bring about death."

The message encourages the fostering of vocations of men and women religious dedicated for life to this sector, for "it is in care for the sick more than in any other way that love is made concrete and a witness of hope in the Resurrection is offered."