VATICAN CITY, MAY 25, 2004 ( John Paul II wrote a letter to encourage initiatives for the care of the elderly and disabled in Romania, a country still recovering from its Communist past.

The letter, sent to Cardinal Fiorenzo Angelini, president emeritus of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers, expressed the Pope's gratitude to the Benedictine congregation of Sisters of Reparation of the Holy Face, for the foundation of the "House of the Holy Face of Jesus," which they opened in the town of Bacau.

"The new assistance structure, next to a place of worship dedicated to Jesus, Eternal Priest," is "an important service to those who are in situations of poverty or sickness, and have no relatives able to attend to their needs," the Holy Father said.

"The initiative is, therefore, a concrete response to the divine commandment to love God and one's neighbor with all one's heart, soul and strength," he continued.

At the same time, it is "a solidaristic contribution to the needs of the country, which after emerging from the Communist yoke, is organizing its economic and social life," the Pope added.

John Paul II said that such initiatives reflect the "creativity of charity" to which he called the Church in the apostolic letter "Novo Millennio Ineunte," not only "ensuring that help is effective but also" that one get close "to those who suffer, so that the hand that helps is seen not as a humiliating handout but as a sharing between brothers and sisters."

The Holy Father traveled to Romania in May 1999, the first Orthodox country to be visited by a pope.

The Sisters of Reparation have 15 religious houses in Italy, dedicated in particular to the care of the elderly and disabled. Their congregation was founded by Abbot Ildebrando Gregori (1894-1985) of the congregation of the Sylvestrine Benedictine monks, after World War II.