VATICAN CITY, JAN. 30, 2004 ( John Paul II says there can be no genuine development without freedom, and no genuine freedom without the free exercise of religion in society.

The Pope expressed this conviction today when receiving the letters of credence of Chou-seng Tou, the new ambassador of the Republic of China -- Taiwan -- to the Holy See.

At the meeting, the ambassador said Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian "was deeply moved and inspired" after reading the Pope's message for the 2004 World Day of Peace, entitled "An Ever Timely Commitment: Teaching Peace."

In his English-language address, the Holy Father said: "Cooperation among peoples, nations and governments is an essential condition to ensure a better future for all. The international community faces many challenges in this regard, among them the serious problems of world poverty, the denial of the rights of peoples and the lack of firm resolve on the part of some groups to foster peace and stability."

"The religious and cultural traditions of the Republic of China bear witness to the fact that human development should not be limited to economic or material success," the Pope said.

"Many of the ascetical and mystical elements of Asian religions teach that it is not the acquirement of material wealth which defines the progress of individuals and societies, but rather a civilization's ability to foster the interior dimension and transcendent vocation of men and women," he said.

"Indeed," the Holy Father continued, "when individuals and communities do not see a rigorous respect for the moral, cultural and spiritual requirements, based on the dignity of the person and on the proper identity of each community, beginning with the family and religious societies, then all the rest -- availability of goods, abundance of technical resources applied to daily life, a certain level of material well-being -- will prove unsatisfying and in the end contemptible."

"For this reason it is important that all societies strive to give their citizens the necessary freedom to realize fully their true vocation," the Pope said.

"This resolution to advance freedom in human society requires first and foremost the free exercise of religion in society," he said.

"The good of society entails that the right to religious freedom be enshrined in law and be given effective protection," he added. "Religions are a component in the life and culture of a nation and bring a great sense of well-being to a community by offering a certain level of social order, tranquility, harmony and assistance to the weak and the outcast."

"By concentrating on the most profound human questions, religions make a great contribution to the genuine progress of society and promote, in a very significant way, the culture of peace on both the national and international levels," he noted.

"The new millennium challenges us to strive towards fulfilling a precise duty incumbent on everyone, namely greater cooperation in order to foster the values of generosity, reconciliation, justice, peace, courage and patience, which the universal human family needs today more than ever," John Paul II concluded.

Unlike the rest of the countries of the European Union, the Holy See maintains diplomatic relations with Taipei. The People's Republic of China -- mainland China -- insists that countries that have diplomatic relations with Beijing must break their official diplomatic ties with Taiwan. Rome and Beijing broke relations in the 1950s.

In statements published by the press a few days ago, the new ambassador, Chou-seng Tou, promised to do everything possible, during his term of office, to strengthen diplomatic relations and bilateral exchanges in different fields between Taiwan and the Holy See.