VATICAN CITY — There is no easy way to world peace, Pope John Paul II said in his Jan. 1 World Day of Peace message. But World Youth Day 2000 is one sign of hope for a better world.

A difficult and unpredictable dialogue among cultures and traditions is “the obligatory path” to peace, said the Holy Father. He urged nations to acknowledge differences but put them in the context of “the underlying unity of the human family.”

The 24-page message, titled “Dialogue Between Cultures for a Civilization of Love and Peace,” criticized “the slavish conformity of cultures” around the globe to certain aspects of Western culture. He said societies had the duty to ensure that influxes of immigrants did not upset the local “cultural equilibrium.”

Noting that dialogue was frequently obstructed by “the tragic heritage of war, conflict, violence and hatred, which lives on in people's memory,” John Paul asked Christians to “become witness to and missionaries of forgiveness and reconciliation.”

He appealed especially to young people to “become craftsmen of a new humanity” and said that at Rome's World Youth Day celebrations in August he was “able to glimpse a more peaceful and human future for the world.”

“Feeling your closeness to me, I sensed a profound gratitude to the Lord, who gave me the grace of contemplating — through the multicolored mosaic of your different languages, cultures, customs and ways of thinking — the miracle of the universality of the Church, of her catholicity, of her unity,” he said.

Bishop Diarmuid Martin, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, said at a press conference that the Pope had a “different message” than that popularized by the 1996 book, “The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order,” written by Samuel P. Huntington, a Harvard professor. Rather than a “clash,” the Vatican official said, “it is dialogue between civilizations that [John Paul] proposes as the creative way to resolve problems” caused by the increasing mix of cultures brought by globalization.

Migration and Cultural Identity

The Holy Father especially stressed the theme of migration, but with an emphasis on culture identity, devoting nearly four consecutive pages to the rights and duties of cultures which find themselves living together. Asserting that a person's own culture is “a structuring element of one's personality, especially in the initial stages of life,” he said it was appropriate for societies to be concerned with maintaining their cultural identity, particularly for the sake of their children.

“From this point of view, a reasonable way forward would be to ensure a certain ‘cultural equilibrium’ in each region, by reference to the culture which has prevalently marked its development,” he said.

“This equilibrium, even while welcoming minorities and respecting their basic rights, would allow the continued existence and development of a particular ‘cultural profile,’ by which I mean that basic heritage of language, traditions and values which are inextricably part of a nation's history and its national identity,” he said.

But he added that laws alone were not enough to maintain a region's traditional culture.

“As long as a culture is truly alive, it need have no fear of being displaced. And no law could keep it alive if it were already dead in people's hearts,” he said.

“In the dialogue between cultures, no side can be prevented from proposing to the other the values in which it believes,” he said, “as long as this is done in a way that is respectful of people's freedom and conscience.”

Archbishop Francois Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan, president of the justice and peace council, underscored a passage in which the Pope said that “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.”

Western Media

The Pope also turned a critical eye toward Western culture and its disproportionate influence, through media and economic wealth, on the rest of the world.

“Western cultural models are enticing and alluring because of their remarkable scientific and technical cast, but regrettably there is growing evidence of their deepening human, spiritual and moral impoverishment,” he said.

The Pope said Western cultural models were “marked by the fatal attempt to secure the good of humanity by eliminating God.”

“A culture which no longer has a point of reference in God loses its soul and loses its way, becoming a culture of death,” he said.

In addition, the spread of Western culture meant that “other estimable cultures and civilizations” were being eroded from within and lost, the Pope said.

“The fact that a few countries have a monopoly on these cultural ‘industries’ and distribute their products to an ever growing public in every corner of the earth,” he said, “can be a powerful factor in undermining cultural distinctness.”

(CNS reporter John Norton contributed to this report.)