VATICAN CITY, JAN. 24, 2005 ( The promotion of understanding among peoples is the way the media serve the cause of peace, says John Paul II in his 2005 message for World Communications Day.

The theme of the day, to be observed May 8, is "The Communications Media at the Service of Understanding among Peoples."

"Modern technology places at our disposal unprecedented possibilities for good, for spreading the truth of our salvation in Jesus Christ, and for fostering harmony and reconciliation," the Pope writes in the message.

"Yet its misuse can do untold harm, giving rise to misunderstanding, prejudice and even conflict," he adds in the text issued in six languages by the Vatican press office today, feast of St. Francis of Sales, the patron of journalists.

In his message, the Holy Father warns communicators about an "urgent need": "To promote the unity of the human family through the use made of these great resources."

"One important way of achieving this end is through education. The media can teach billions of people about other parts of the world and other cultures," he states.

For many, the media are "the chief means of information and education, of guidance and inspiration in their behavior as individuals, families, and within society at large," he continues. "Accurate knowledge promotes understanding, dispels prejudice, and awakens a desire to learn more.

"When others are portrayed in hostile terms, seeds of conflict are sown which can all too easily escalate into violence, war, or even genocide."

John Paul II continues: "Instead of building unity and understanding, the media can be used to demonize other social, ethnic and religious groups, fomenting fear and hatred. Those responsible for the style and content of what is communicated have a grave duty to ensure that this does not happen.

"Indeed, the media have enormous potential for promoting peace and building bridges between peoples, breaking the fatal cycle of violence, reprisal and fresh violence that is so widespread today."

The Pope highlights the influence of the media "in favor of the swift mobilization of aid in response to natural disasters."

"It was heartening to see how quickly the international community responded to the recent tsunami that claimed countless victims," he states.

To achieve these objective, the Bishop of Rome concludes by offering an ethical principle for communication: "The human person and the human community are the end and measure of the use of the media of social communication."

"Communicators have the opportunity to promote a true culture of life by distancing themselves from today's conspiracy against life and conveying the truth about the value and dignity of very human person," he proposes.

The Holy Father adds that "my prayer on this year's World Communications Day is that the men and women of the media will play their part in breaking down the dividing walls of hostility in our world, walls that separate peoples and nations from one another, feeding misunderstanding and mistrust."