VATICAN CITY, MARCH 3, 2002 ( In face of the loss of the "genuine religious sense," John Paul II said it is urgent that Christians rediscover their identity.

Addressing thousands of pilgrims gathered today in St. Peter´s Square, the Holy Father said that in "many realms of ancient Christian tradition, the genuine religious sense is unfortunately increasingly being lost."

That is why "it has become urgent for Christians to renew the awareness of their own identity," the Pope added before praying the midday Angelus.

"In other words, it is necessary that they rediscover their baptism, appreciating the inexhaustible spiritual vigor of sanctifying grace received in it, in order to transmit it to every realm of personal and social life," the Pontiff emphasized.

John Paul II made his appealed after recalling how early Christians lived Lent, "when it was the norm for baptisms to be administered during the Paschal Vigil."

The catechumens, those who were preparing to enter the Church, after "three years of a well-structured catechesis, in the last weeks of Lent completed the final stages of their journey, receiving symbolically the Creed, the Our Father and the Gospel," the Pope explained.

The Gospel in the day´s liturgy explained the reality of baptism: "through water, symbol of the Holy Spirit, the believer receives light and is reborn in faith to a new and eternal life," he observed.

John Paul II said the "source of water that springs for eternal life is present in every baptized person, but must constantly be cleansed of the residues of sin, so that it is not suffocated and dried up."

"For this, our collaboration is indispensable," the Pope concluded. "Let us then receive the invitation of the liturgy to drink from the sources of eternal life. May Mary, Mother of the Church, help those who are preparing to receive baptism, as well as all those who have already received it, to undertake in these weeks a journey of radical interior renewal."