VATICAN CITY, JAN. 1, 2004 ( John Paul II started the new year by insisting that peace is "possible" and thus a "duty," and he called for a new international order.

That was the focus of the Pope's homily today at the Mass to celebrate the solemnity of the Mother of God. The Church also marked World Day of Peace.

The Holy Father concentrated on the need to teach peace, an issue he highlighted in the first year of his pontificate. "Given that peace is possible -- I wish to repeat -- it is a duty," he explained in St. Peter's Basilica.

"In the face of situations of injustice and violence that oppress various areas of the planet, in the face of the permanence of armed conflicts frequently forgotten by public opinion, it is ever more necessary to build together paths of peace," the Pope said. "Therefore, it is indispensable to teach peace."

He said it is particularly necessary to teach peace in the land where Jesus was born, which, "unfortunately, continues to live in dramatic conditions."

"It is necessary, however, to persevere without yielding to the temptation to mistrust," the Holy Father added. "An effort is necessary on the part of all to have the fundamental rights of people respected through constant education in lawfulness."

"With this objective, everything possible must be done to overcome the logic of strict justice in order to open also to that of forgiveness. In fact, there is no peace without forgiveness," the Pope said.

Commenting on the international scene, the Holy Father explained that there is an ever-greater need for "a new international order, which will make use of the experience and results obtained in these years by the United Nations."

He called for such "an order that will be capable of giving solutions that are appropriate to the problems of today, based on the dignity of the human person, the integral development of society, solidarity between rich and poor countries, and the capacity to share the resources and extraordinary results of scientific and technological progress."

Ambassadors of countries accredited to the Holy See attended the Mass, which was presided over by the Holy Father and celebrated by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Angelo Sodano.