Having put his prestige behind an effort to mediate the crisis in his native Poland, Pope John Paul II warned today that world peace cannot be built by nations unwilling to respect human rights.

If the world hopes to escape the "nuclear terror that haunts our time," the pontiff said in a message released today to commemorate the Day of Peace, Jan. 1, nations must first of all establish peace within their own societies based on justice, common welfare and the "participation of all."

The pope's message, written four days before the Dec. 13 military crackdown in his homeland, made no specific mention of Poland, or any other nation. But the terms in which the pope expressed his concern at the fragility of world peace were a strong statement of deep personal beliefs that have led him to make his unusual papal intervention to ease the crisis in Poland.

The statement came shortly before Bishop Bronislaw Dabrowski, secretary of the Polish bishops' conference, arrived here late tonight to confer with the pontiff about the situation in Poland. His arrival provides the first direct contact the Vatican has had with Poland since the imposition of martial law.

Meanwhile, the pope waited for news from Warsaw from Archbishop Luigi Poggi, his special emissary to Poland. Vatican sources said the pontiff sent Poggi to reestablish communications with the powerful Roman Catholic Church there and to explore the possibility of Vatican mediation between the head of Poland's ruling military council, Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski, and imprisoned labor leaders headed by Lech Walesa.

It also came as unconfirmed reports from Poland said Catholic priests were being arrested and beaten by the military rulers for their opposition to martial law.

Vatican officials said that John Paul, who until 1978 was bishop of Krakow, was personally directing the church initiative to find a solution to the crisis. He met personally with Poggi Friday night to brief him on his mission and, through his own Polish Vatican "kitchen cabinet," he has been monitoring news from his homeland on an hourly basis.

The Vatican had been cut off from direct communication with Polish church authorities under the leadership of Archbishop Jozef Glemp since Jaruzelski proclaimed martial law and ordered the mass arrest of Solidarity union leaders Dec. 13.

The Vatican's two telex links with its Warsaw offices remain closed, and there are still no phone communications with Poland.

Poggi, the papal nuncio with special responsibilities for Eastern Europe, and Msgr. Janusz Bolonek, a Polish-born Vatican diplomat, were allowed to go to Poland after a series of meetings here late last week between Vatican officials and Kazimierz Szablewski, the Polish diplomat charged with conducting relations with the Vatican. Poggi arrived in Warsaw Sunday and has not made direct contact with the Vatican yet.

Just what sort of compromise the pope thinks he might be able to work out remains one of the Vatican's closest guarded secrets. His primary concern, as expressed Wednesday and again yesterday, is that the confrontation in Poland not degenerate into more bloodshed that could lead to a civil war and a Soviet invasion.

At the same time, the pope has urged publicly that the "renewal" of Polish society sparked by the Solidarity movement's courage and determination be resumed and that the rights wrested from the government by the workers be respected.

Vatican specialists expect the pope to urge both the government and the workers to settle on some "common ground" that not only they could live with but that also would not alarm the Soviet Union.

"There are not all that many options possible at this stage, so the pope's initiative seems rather obvious," said a veteran Vatican analyst. "First he has to get the people talking so that there will be no more bloodshed and a larger catastrophe can be averted. Then you'll have to get guarantees for the just rights of workers in exchange for the workers' agreement to limit their actions and demands in some way. All this will have to be done in a way to reassure Moscow."

Vatican officials are heartened by evidence that Poggi's mission was agreed to only after Jaruzelski realized that his crackdown, for all its military efficiency, had not succeeded in cowing the workers, whose passive resistance continues to jeopardize the government.

Vatican officials say privately that both the government and Walesa have expressed interest in Vatican intervention and that this has encouraged John Paul. They express hope that Poggi will be able to meet with Solidarity leaders such as Walesa as well as church authorities and the government. These meetings, they hope, will lead to a basis for real mediation by the pope, who, as one official here put it, "never renounced his role in Poland" when he was elected pope. John Paul II's initiative is important since he, not Archbishop Glemp, is seen as the real leader of Poland's 36 million Catholics.

It is generally conceded that his elevation to the papacy gave Poland's workers the confidence and moral support that inspired their challenge to Communist rule in Poland.

Vatican officials insist that the pope's concern over events in his homeland are not merely the result of his nationality. They say he is also deeply involved in the Polish crisis because he sees it as a major setback for East-West detente and world peace.

"Since the purpose for which a political society is formed is the establishment of justice, the advancement of the common good and participation by all, that society will enjoy peace only to the extent that these three demands are respected," the pope said in his message today.