Pope John Paul II urged a joint group of Methodist and Roman Catholic church unity leaders to ignore "the cries of the impatient and skeptical" and continue the search for reconciliation between the two Christian bodies.

At an audience with members of the International Commission of the World Methodist Council and the Vatican Secretariat for Christian Unity, the pontiff praised the ecumenical group for "facing the thorny questions which are the legacy of the sad history of modern Christian division" with "serenity, good will and charity."

The international commission was in Rome for a continuation of theological dialogue and consultation that has been carried on annually for some 14 years.

In his remarks to the group, the pope said that observers of the annual talks were forcibly struck by "the deep affinities between Catholic and Methodist traditions and ideals."

He congratulated the group for what he termed their "strong emphasis on the positive challenges which all Christ's witnesses face today -- not merely in the social field, trying to state the Christian message effectively in a world bewildered by change -- but even more in the delicate inner realm of the Christian conscience, where no man or woman escapes the hard choices, the sacrifices inseparable from holding to Christ."

The pope urged the group "not to be upset by the cries of the impatient and the skeptical, but to do all in your power to ensure that your search for reconciliation be echoed and reflected wherever Methodists and Catholics meet."