VATICAN CITY, SEPT. 29, 2003 ( At a time of dissent and relativism, the great challenge for Christians and their pastors is to formulate judgments in keeping with truth, says John Paul II.

"Today it seems increasingly arduous for pastors of the Church, for scholars and for teachers of Christian morality to support the faithful in formulating judgments according to truth, given the atmosphere of dissent on salvific truth and widespread relativism on the moral law," the Pope said.

The Holy Father addresses this matter in a message sent to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, made public Saturday by the Vatican press office.

The occasion for the message was a symposium organized this week in Rome by the doctrinal congregation on "The Anthropology of Moral Theology According to the Encyclical 'Veritatis Splendor.'"

The meeting of bishops, theologians, professors and others is to mark the 10th anniversary of the Pope's encyclical on fundamental questions of the moral teaching of the Church.

In his message, the Pope says he believes it is critical to study in-depth "the essential relation that exists between truth, good and freedom."

"This relation not only has its ontological foundation in the nature of the human being, but also in the Incarnation and is renewed and made manifest in the historic-salvific event of the cross of our Redeemer," he says.

"Beyond all the cultural changes, there are essential realities that do not change; rather, they find their ultimate foundation in Christ, who is always the same, yesterday, today and forever," the Holy Father states.

"Therefore, the fundamental reference of Christian morality is not the culture of man but the plan of God," he adds. "The formative secret of the Church consists, therefore, in keeping one's gaze fixed on the crucified Christ, and in proclaiming his redeeming sacrifice."

"The answer [the Church] gives to the question of contemporary man's happiness has the power and wisdom of Christ crucified, Truth that sacrifices himself out of love," he concludes.