VATICAN CITY—The Church's contributions on the world stage are valuable and should be encouraged, the Protestant president of Finland said after a private audience Nov. 23 with Pope John Paul II.

Finland's Martti Ahtisaari, who is also currently serving as the president of the European Union, decried those who would exclude the Vatican's voice from being heard in important world bodies.

“The Holy See represents a special forum, as it has invaluable knowledge of events in the world, promotes peace, solidarity and tolerance — values to which we attach much importance,” said Ahtisaari, president of Finland since 1994.

“And these values are not just important for us, but also for the European Union and the international community.”

Ahtisaari served as a key mediator in bringing a halt earlier this year to the NATO bombings in Yugoslavia and the Kosovo crisis. His national, regional and international experience give him a privileged vantage point from which to judge the Vatican's effectiveness.

“To those who are displeased by the Holy See's growing influence, the only thing I can say is that I intensely desire that the issues that are part of the Holy See's agenda will spread even further, because we all need peace and solidarity,” the Finnish president said.

The Finnish population of 5 million is concentrated in the south of the country. With just over 5 million inhabitants, 85.8% of are Lutheran and 1.1% Orthodox. Catholics number about 7,000, and are served by