VATICAN, Mar. 9, 01 ( -- As he met with a group of bishops from Arab countries, who were in Rome for their ad limina visit, Pope John Paul II called for an immediate resumption of negotiations between Palestinian and Israeli leaders. The Pope said that the "distressing" events of recent days "have sorely tested our hope for peace" in the regoin. He therefore stressed the urgency of "a rapid return to the negotiating table."

The Holy Father also said that Christians in the Arab lands should "not give in to the temptation to discouragement," nor "the
temptation to abandon your native land." He continued: "I would actively encourage Christians to have confidence in themselves, and remain firmly attached to the lands of their ancestors." He particularly stressed the importance of maintaining a permanent Christian presence in Jerusalem.

The Pope also encouraged the Catholic bishops of the region to be active participants in inter-religious dialogue, while resisting "every form of mediocrity and superficial religiosity." He said that divisions among Christians are evidence of "infidelity" to Christ, and must be overcome by "show our determination" to achieve full unity.

In concluding his remarks, the Pope mentioned the "tragic" situations in several Arab countries. He spoke of Iraq, where "the embargo continues to claim victims." And he called upon the Arab lands of northern Africa to show their hospitality toward the refugees fleeing from civil war and famine in Sudan.