VATICAN CITY, JULY 4, 2003 ( Meeting with Seoul's new ambassador to the Vatican, John Paul II encouraged the rapprochement between the two Koreas, called for the elimination of nuclear arms, and condemned the "terrible social wound" of abortion.

When Ambassador Youm Seong presented his credentials today, the Pope began by expressing his satisfaction with the impressive growth of the Catholic Church in South Korea.

In 1990, there were 2.73 million baptized Catholics in the country. By 2002, the figure had grown to 4.18 million.

The Catholic Church in Korea "is a promising reality that enjoys esteem and respect. It undertakes its mission inspired by the Gospel and gives concrete religious witness through its educational, welfare and charitable institutions, appreciated by so many," the Holy Father said.

The Pope delivered his address in Latin, which the ambassador speaks fluently. After studying theology, Youm Seong received a doctorate in classical literature in Rome and, until now, has been director of the Korean Institute of Greco-Roman Studies.

John Paul II went on to say that he had visited Korea on two occasions, and referred to the "progress and victories of freedom and well-being of a young and dynamic society."

"However, I also saw the bitterness of many people in noting that the peninsula, inhabited by one people, is forced to live a painful division," he said. "The feelings of hostility and opposition between the two nations are surely cause for concern, but there is also reason to hope in knowing that there is a concrete will to alleviate tensions through dialogue and meetings."

"Every encouraging sign in this direction must be supported with patience and courage, perseverance and a broad outlook. Only through respectful dialogue can positive and lasting objectives be reached," the Pope said.

"The agreements signed to date show that a sincere and peaceful will to surmount disputes leads to concrete results in mutual respect and loyalty, for the benefit not only of reconciliation between the two states, but also of the stability of the regional framework in which the Korean peninsula is integrated," he continued.

"This political path will probably find greater strength and credibility if the more developed area of the peninsula will know how, within its possibilities, to assume the urgent necessities of the other area," the Holy Father said.

"The present and future must be built on solid bases of respect for the human person and the constant search for justice and peace," he added. "To this end, in the present juncture, there is need to tirelessly pursue efforts aimed at the progressive, balanced and verifiable elimination of weapons of mass destruction and, especially, nuclear ones."

Toward the end of his address, the Holy Father mentioned the new social challenges facing Korea, acknowledging that the Catholic Church "cannot hide her concern for the sad phenomenon of abortion, which is a terrible social wound."

"There is also the widespread practice of artificial birth control and the spreading of a pragmatist mentality that justifies and encourages genetic manipulations, even the most impartial, as well as the death penalty," he added. "In face of these serious threats to life, the Church feels it her duty to recall the values in which she believes, values that are mankind's patrimony because the natural law is written by God in the heart of every person."

This is why, "a program whose priority objective is the defense of life and the family can only benefit the solidarity and stability of Korean society," he concluded.