Pope John Paul II has urged believers to proudly display the signs of their faith, saying the practice does not encourage intolerance or infringe on the separation of church and state.

In an apostolic letter to Roman Catholics launching the Year of the Eucharist, the pope made no mention of specific problems. But the message follows sharp controversy in France over a government ban on conspicuous religious symbols such as Muslim headscarves, Jewish skullcaps or large crucifixes in the country's schools.

The pontiff also repeated his concern that too few Catholics are giving due reverence to the Eucharist or properly marking Sunday as the Lord's Day.

He also described faith as a means of counteracting violence and a way of bringing attention to such problems as poverty and hunger in the world.