In the first major document of his two-month-old pontificate, Pope John Paul II challenged world political leaders to take bold steps for peace.

The 4500-word message, titled "To Reach Peace, Teach Peace," called on world leaders to create "ever wider areas of disarmanent. Have the courage to reexamine in depth the disquieting question of the arms trade."

The papal message was issued yesterday in anticipation of New Year's Day, which the late Pope Paul VI designated more than a decade ago to be celebrated by the world's 600 million Catholics as the Day of Peace.

"Do everything in your power to make the way of dialogue prevail over that of force," John Paul said. "Peace will be last word of history."

The message is addressed to all heads of state, international organizations, churches and leaders of other religions. It was issued in English, Italian, French, German, Spanish and Portuguese.

In it, the Polish-born pope urged world leaders to "do everything in your power to make the way of dialogue prevail over that of force." He cited as an aid to peace-making the fact that "the public opinion of the nations would no longer tolerate the justifying of war or even taking the risk of an offensive war."

The pope offered his "entire support" for peace-making efforts. He did not cite any countries or regions by name in his message, but one passage appeared to refer to the stalled Middle East peace efforts when he said:

"Too often gestures of peace are ridiculously incapable of changing the course of events, even if they are not actually swept away and in the end taken over by the overbearing logic of exploitation and violence."

At another point he said, "In one place, timidity and the difficulty of carrying out needed reforms poison relations between human groups in spite of their being united by a long and exemplary common history. Elsewhere, fear of precarious peace, military and political imperatives and economic and commercial interests lead to the establishment of arms stockpiles or to the safe of weapons capable of appalling destruction."