VATICAN CITY, Dec. 14 (RNS) -- Attacking the West for imposing an atheistic, life-despising model on other cultures, Pope John Paul II appealed Thursday for dialogue between cultures to build a ``civilization of love and peace'' in ``a world marked by excessive conflict and violence.''

The 80-year-old Roman Catholic pontiff made the appeal in a sweeping, 24-page statement to be distributed to governments, international organizations and religious leaders to mark the church's annual World Day of Peace, celebrated on Jan. 1. It was issued in advance at a Vatican news conference.

In keeping with the United Nations' designation of 2001 as the International Year of Dialogue Among Civilizations, the pope dedicated his message to ``dialogue between cultures for a civilization of love and peace.''

``At the beginning of the third millennium, it is urgent that the path of dialogue be proposed once again to a world marked by excessive conflict and violence, a world at times discouraged and incapable of seeing signs of hope and peace,'' John Paul said.

The message strongly endorsed cultural diversity, defended the cultural rights of migrants and other minorities, and attacked a ``tragic spiral of death'' in the world, including the death penalty, abortion, euthanasia, cloning, and the use of human embryos for research and other forms of genetic engineering.

The pope urged all Christians ``to become witnesses to and missionaries of forgiveness and reconciliation'' in the spirit of the Jubilee Holy Year 2000. He called on young people to become ``craftsmen of a new humanity'' where all humanity can live in peace and said that the world's different religions also ``can and ought to contribute decisively to this process.''

The Polish-born John Paul reserved some of his strongest language for an attack on ``the slavish conformity of cultures, or at least of key aspects of them, to cultural models deriving from the Western world.''

``Detached from their Christian origins, these models are often inspired by an approach to life marked by secularism and practical atheism and by patterns of radical individualism,'' the pope said.

``This is a phenomenon of vast proportions, sustained by powerful media campaigns and designed to propagate lifestyles, social and economic programs and, in the last analysis, a comprehensive world view which erodes from within other estimable cultures and civilizations,'' he asserted.

In an apparent reference to the aftermath of conflict between Muslims and Serbs in Kosovo and Bosnia, the pontiff said humanity has embarked on the new millennium ``with still open wounds. In many regions, it is beset by bitter and bloody conflicts and is struggling with increased difficulty to maintain solidarity between people of different cultures and civilizations living together in the same territory.''

John Paul warned also of the potential for conflict in ``a new social configuration resulting in many countries from accelerated migration and the unprecedented situation of different cultures and civilizations living side by side.''

``Immigrants must always be treated with the respect due to the dignity of every human person,'' the pope said. ``The cultural practices which immigrants bring with them should be respected and accepted as long as they do not contravene either the universal ethical values inherent in the natural law or fundamental human rights.''

Questioned at the news conference about the Vatican's position on the practice of female circumcision among some migrants from Africa and the Middle East, Bishop Diarmuid Martin, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, said, ``No religion dictates female circumcision. The Holy See takes a clear position of opposition to this without reserve or timidity.''

In the message, John Paul said the only solution to the problem of culture clash is ``dialogue between cultures and tradition.'' He said the goal should be to ``ensure a certain cultural equilibrium'' that welcomes minorities and respects their basic rights while preserving the ``cultural profile'' of the larger group.

The pope said that scientific and technological achievements in the West have made Western cultural models ``enticing and alluring,'' but he added, ``Regrettably there is growing evidence of their deepening human, spiritual and moral impoverishment.''

``A culture which no longer has a point of reference in God loses its soul and loses its way, becoming a culture of death,'' John Paul said. ``This was amply demonstrated by the tragic events of the 20th century and is now apparent in the nihilism present in some prominent circles in the Western world.''

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