VATICAN CITY—Cuba has nothing to fear from the Catholic Church and, in fact, granting the Church greater freedom would improve Cuba's standing in the international community, Pope John Paul II said.

Full respect for human rights “is fundamental for being able to win credibility on the international scene,” the Pope said in a message Dec. 2 to Cuba's new ambassador to the Vatican.

Meeting Isidro Gomez Santos, the new ambassador, Pope John Paul said, “Cuba must not be deprived of the ties with other peoples which are indispensable for a healthy economic, social and cultural development.

Although there was no explicit reference to the U.S. embargo, the Pope said that Cuba “should not be deprived of links with other nations, as they are necessary for healthy economic, social and cultural development.

“This process will be easier if Cuba, for its part, promotes new areas of freedom and participation for its inhabitants, all of whom are called to collaborate in the building of society.”

The Catholic Church “wants to be, above all, a messenger of hope, love, justice, reconciliation and peace, offering everyone the message of Jesus, the Good News.”

The Church has no political system to propose and no political goals to follow, he said. It wants to work for the good of all Cubans and for the promotion of the values necessary for the proper development of society.

The Church in Cuba asks for respect, he said, and it “hopes for a more generous opening to that solidarity shown by the universal Church through an enriching exchange of personnel and means.”

With the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000 only a few weeks away, Pope John Paul said he felt compelled to repeat what he told the world at the beginning of his pontificate: “‘Do not be afraid!’ Let Christ into your lives and let his saving power into every nation, culture, political and economic system.”

Gomez, the 62-year-old ambassador, came to the Vatican already familiar with Church-state relations in Cuba and with the state of Cuba-Vatican relations.

He served on the government and Church-state committees preparing for Pope John Paul's 1998 visit to Cuba. From 1975 to 1987 and again from 1991 until his appointment as ambassador, Gomez was an official of the religious affairs office of the central committee of the Cuban Communist Party.

Gomez told the Pope there is “full freedom of conscience and religious practice” in Cuba, and the ongoing dialogue between government and Church leaders is leading to greater mutual understanding.

The ambassador said Cuba already allows the universal Church to share its resources with the Church in Cuba; 100 foreign priests have entered the country in the past five years, he said. Gomez said Cuba and the Catholic Church must work together to support peace and justice throughout the world.

(From combined wire services)