VATICAN CITY, MARCH 29, 2004 ( John Paul II proposed ever stronger bonds between the Jewish people and the Catholic Church, as he received members of an American group in audience.

Speaking in English, the Pope today welcomed the president and members of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), and said their visit "is yet another sign of the bonds of friendship between the Jewish people and the Catholic Church, bonds which we hope will grow ever stronger."

Since 1914, the JDC has served as the overseas arm of the American Jewish community. Its mission is to serve Jews in need throughout the world, according to the organization's Web page (

The Holy Father told his visitors: "God has created man in his image and has endowed human beings with the capacity to love. It is through love that we fulfill our destiny to act in the likeness of God."

"From this stems our duty to serve one another according to the commandment found in the Book of Leviticus: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord,'" the Pope continued.

"We are called especially to serve those who need our help to live in security, justice and freedom," he said, encouraging the JDC's activity and wishing it success in its work.

"May God bless your efforts and grant you success in helping those in need," the Pope said.

The JDC sponsors programs of relief, rescue and renewal, and helps Israel address its most urgent social challenges. In the early 1990s, the JDC helped sustain the lives and secure the rescue of 15,000 Ethiopian Jews. The group also aids non-Jews in times of natural disasters, war and famine.