VATICAN CITY -- Pope John Paul II urged Roman Catholics on Thursday (Oct. 18) to share their daily life with Muslim immigrants, turning the phenomenon of migration into an opportunity for interreligious dialogue.

The Roman Catholic pontiff called for "a relationship of openness and dialogue with the followers of other religions" and said, "To reach this goal, initiatives that attract the attention of the major means of social communications are not enough.

"What are needed are rather everyday gestures, done with simplicity and constancy, that are capable of producing an authentic change in interpersonal relationships," he said.

John Paul made the appeal in his message for next year's 88th World Day of Migrants and Refugees, titled "Migrations and Interreligious Dialogue," which the Vatican issued Thursday.

Local churches will choose when to observe the day. In the United States, this year's observance was held during national Migration Week, Jan. 1-7.

The pope did not mention the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States, which were blamed on Islamic extremists. But, quoting from his document "Novo Millennio Ineunte" (At the Beginning of the New Millennium), which closed Holy Year 2000, he said dialogue is the only hope "for warding off the dread specter of those wars of religion which have so often bloodied human history."

Officials of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant Peoples told a Vatican news conference that the message was a direct response to the terrorism crisis and mainly concerned Christian-Muslim dialogue.

"Little more than a month from the tragic events of New York and Washington, it could be asked if the theme chosen is not a little rash," said Archbishop Stephen Fumio Hamao, president of the council.

Hamao noted that many countries are considering screening immigrants and refugees by religion and are toughening their border controls to try to make it impossible for terrorists to enter.

But, he said, the pope's message is all the more current because it responds to the "cry for peace" from "innocent people who want nothing more than to be left free to live a life worthy of the human person."

John Paul noted that there are some 150 million immigrants throughout the world and said it is "indispensable to remove the barriers of diffidence, prejudice and fear that unfortunately still exist among those who belong to the different religions."

Calling on Catholics to make their parish community "a training ground of hospitality, a place where an exchange of experiences and gifts takes place," the pope said, "This cannot but foster a tranquil life together, preventing the risk of tension with immigrants who bring other religious beliefs with themselves."

The Rev. Angelo Negrini, a council official, said that in concrete terms, the pontiff was urging dialogue between Catholics and Muslims who live side-by-side and meet on the stairs of their apartment houses, on the street or in schools.

Negrini suggested that Catholics invite Muslim neighbors or fellow workers to birthday parties and offer them greetings on their religious feasts.

"Unfortunately, our calendars do not yet indicate such feasts, nor those of other religions," he said. "It seems to me to be urgent that the mass media, including those of the church, furnish such up-to-date and detailed information."

John Paul also asked non-Christian countries to grant Christians the same freedom to practice their religion that non-Christians enjoy in the West. This, he said, is an essential presupposition for sincere dialogue.

"I would like to express the wish that this kind of living together in solidarity may also take place in countries where the majority profess a religion different from Christianity but where Christian immigrants live and where they unfortunately do not always enjoy a true freedom of religion and conscience," he said.

Monsignor Felix Anthony Machado, undersecretary of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, said the situation had improved in the Gulf states but less so in Saudi Arabia, where he said the continuing lack of religious freedom "is linked to religious doctrine."

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