VALLETTA, Malta, MAY 9, 2001 ( John Paul II bid farewell to Malta this afternoon, at the end of his pilgrimage to retrace the footsteps of St. Paul, a trip that also took him to Greece and Syria.

The 80-year-old Pope seemed pleased to have fulfilled yet another goal of his pontificate, despite the exhausting six-day schedule.

Before departing from the Gudja international airport, he said: "At the end of my first visit, I told you that on my return to Rome I would tell the Apostle Paul that the Maltese were ´a good Catholic people.´ Now, I shall tell your patron that you are still doing what he wanted: ´fighting the good fight for the faith; taking hold of the eternal life to which you were called,´ just as Blessed Dun Gorg, Blessed Ignatius and Blessed Adeodata did. I leave you their example to follow, and I commend you to their intercession."

He was referring to the two Maltese and a nun he beatified during a morning Mass attended by more than half the country.

Earlier, the Holy Father visited the tomb of Father George Preca, and met with members of the Society of Christian Doctrine, the institution the priest founded for the promotion of catechesis. John Paul II told them: "The people of our day are more impressed by witnesses than by teachers, and if they listen to these, it is because they also bear witness."

In a farewell address to the Pope at the airport, Maltese President Guido Di Marco referred to the effects still felt today of St. Paul´s three-month stay in the island, when he was going to Rome as a prisoner.

The Pope, for his part, said: "Malta is at the center of the Mediterranean. You, therefore, have a unique vocation to be builders of bridges between the peoples of the Mediterranean basin, between Africa and Europe."

"The future of peace in the world depends on strengthening dialogue and understanding between cultures and religions," he added. "Continue in your traditions of hospitality, and continue in your national and international commitment on behalf of freedom, justice and peace."

John Paul II referred to his Jubilee pilgrimage to places of salvation, which last year took him to Mount Sinai and the Holy Land, and this past week to places connected with St. Paul´s life.

"I solemnly entrust to Almighty God´s loving protection the peoples of the places I have visited," he said. "In the places linked to the 2000th anniversary of the Savior´s birth, I have hoped and prayed for a great renewal of faith among Christians."

The latest pilgrimage was the Pope´s 93rd international trip since 1978. He plans to go to Ukraine from June 23-27.