In an unprecedented letter to children, Pope John Paul II told Roman Catholic youngsters Thursday that by praying for peace they could help ease the misery caused to the world by adults.

The Vatican said it was the first time that a pope directly addressed children and their role in the Catholic Church.The pope's "Letter to Children" closes the Church's Year of the Family in 1994. Its release Thursday coincided with the United Nations' 1995 State of the World's Children report.

The pontiff told children to be active agents for peace, saying they should be more than just recipients of Church teachings.

"You instinctively turn away from hatred and are attracted by love: For this reason the pope is certain that you will not refuse his request," the letter said.

The pope said there were children in the world who "suffer many forms of violence and arrogance from grown-ups."

"They are hungry and poor, they are dying from diseases and malnutrition, they are the victims of war, they are abandoned by their parents," he wrote.

"How can we not care, when we see the suffering of so many children, especially when this suffering is in some way caused by grown-ups?"

He said children themselves could help ease the suffering by praying.

"It is to your prayers that I want to entrust the problems of your own families and of all the families in the world," the pope wrote.

"We must pray together and pray hard, that humanity, made up of billions of human beings, may become more and more the family of God and able to live in peace."