Pope John Paul II has announced that the church is preparing a new set of rules to regulate the lives of nuns.

"After years of experience directed at updating the religious life . . . the time has come to evaluate" that process. The church should approve new rules that "should constitute for all sisters a stimulus to a wider consciousness of their commitments and to a joyous faith in living them," the pope said.

In his address to over 600 mothers superior meeting in Rome for an international assembly, the pope did not say when the "rule" would be completed and made public.

Nor did the pope make any mention of his recent affirmation of the church's stand against the ordination of women to the priesthood.

The pontiff once again asked the nuns, as he has asked priests and monks in the past, to return to religious dress.

He called "the religious habit" a "special testimony."

"In fact," the pope said, "it constitutes a sign: certainly an exterior sign, but one that is indicative of those choices which you have made in consecrating yourselves totally to the ideals of the reign of the heavens and the choice of poverty."

The pope also asked for a commitment to community life. "This in fact," he said, "is an important element of the religious life; it is a characteristic which has been lived by the religious from the beginning, because spiritual ties cannot be created, developed and perpetuated if not through daily and prolonged relationships."