VATICAN CITY, NOV. 28, 2003 ( Situated "between the Latin and Slav worlds," Moldova is called to make dialogue a key tool of its action, John Paul II said when receiving the president of the ex-Soviet republic.

This was the "first meeting between the highest authority of the republic of Moldova and the Successor of Peter" since the country "appeared on the international scene as a sovereign and independent nation," the Pope said today when greeting President Vladimir Voronin.

As the country "attained freedom a short while ago," the Holy Father encouraged Voronin and his compatriots to continue to build it "with confidence," conscious of the "difficulties that are proper especially of beginnings."

"Moldova, situated as it is on the border between the Latin and Slav worlds, cannot but make dialogue an essential operative instrument of its own action, in order to have concrete possibilities arise of peace, justice and well-being," John Paul II said in his address, which he read in Italian in a clear voice.

"Although small in number," the Catholic community "is actively engaged" in the process, "situating itself as a living and generous interlocutor in society," the Pope continued.

Noting that the Church in Moldova -- it is recognized by the government -- "can freely carry out its evangelizing and charitable mission," the Holy Father expressed the hope that dialogue will continue "in a fruitful way, for the benefit of the whole of Moldovan society" and in respect "of democracy and the equality of all religious confessions."

Moldova, which lies between Ukraine and Romania, has a population of 4.5 million, mostly Orthodox. There are some 20,000 Catholics. Vladimir Voronin has been president since April 2001.