VATICAN CITY, OCT. 29, 2004 ( John Paul II appealed to Iranian authorities to respect the religious freedom of Christians and of all their citizens, when he received Tehran's new ambassador to the Holy See.

Mohammed Javad Faridzadeh, the new ambassador, has been working as the Iranian president's special representative for international cultural and political issues.

Addressing the ambassador in French, the Pope requested "the support of the Iranian authorities to allow the faithful of the Catholic Church present in Iran, as well as other Christians, the freedom to profess their religion."

The Holy Father also called for "recognition of the juridical personality of the ecclesiastical institutions, in order to facilitate their work within Iranian society."

Among the fundamental rights, in the first place is "the right to religious freedom, which is an essential aspect of freedom of conscience and which reveals, precisely, the transcendental dimension of the person," he said during today's audience.

"Freedom of worship is an aspect of religious freedom, which must be extended to all the citizens of the country," the Pope added.

Last Feb. 12 a congress held in Rome marked the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the Holy See and Iran. The vast majority of Iran's 69 million people are Shiite Muslims; Catholics number only 23,000.

In this connection, Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo, Vatican secretary for relations with states, said on Vatican Radio that "the Holy See is ready to defend and protect its freedom of conscience, faith [and] religion, lived both individually as well as in community."

Iran "assures us that there is full freedom of conscience for Catholics, and also of worship," the archbishop reported.

"We have questions that remain to be resolved," he added. He referred "first of all, to freedom of worship, freedom of organization, the granting of entry visas to religious from abroad, whose presence is necessary for the small number of Catholics in Iran."

"Then we have problems that affect schools, which at the beginning of the '80s were expropriated from the Catholic institutions that administered them," said Archbishop Lajolo.

"Our relations with Iran, nonetheless, are animated by a mutual willingness to understand and by ever greater concord," added the Vatican official.

The 2004 Report on Religious Freedom in the World, prepared by Aid to the Church in Need, described the difficulties of Muslims in Iran who decide to convert to Christianity. In particular, it mentioned the case of an Iranian citizen who was given political asylum by a court in Germany after his conversion.

A U.S. State Department report on religious freedom, published Sept. 15, also highlights the repression suffered by religious minorities in Iran.