ISCHIA, Italy, MAY 5, 2002 ( John Paul II traveled today to the Mediterranean island of Ischia, across from Naples, the first of a series of upcoming trips in the months ahead.

The Pope presided over a Mass attended by some 15,000 faithful, and later met with 8,000 young people. On an island long-known for its thermal waters, the Holy Father praised the Christian value of hospitality.

The Holy Father invited Ischia´s Christians to make of their island "a special laboratory of that typical hospitality that Christ´s disciples are called to offer to all, regardless of the country or culture to which they belong."

"When we feel loved, we feel more easily impelled to love," John Paul II said during the homily. "When we experience the love of God, we are more willing to follow the One who loved his disciples ´to the end,´ namely, to giving himself completely."

"This is the love that humanity needs perhaps more than ever, because love alone is credible," the Pope continued, speaking from an altar placed at the foot of the imposing Aragonese castle, which dates back to 1447. "Unbreakable faith in this love has inspired in Jesus´ disciples at all times thoughts of peace, opening wide horizons of forgiveness and concord."

The island gave the Pope a warm welcome during his 142nd pastoral visit in Italy. Ischia´s Ponte Square overflowed with the faithful; many more followed the Mass from about 600 small boats just offshore.

The trip´s organizers, including Bishop Filipo Strofaldi, suggested that the Pope stay for a few days to rest and recover more rapidly from the arthrosis in his right knee, which has caused him trouble since February. The Holy Father was unable to accept the invitation given his tight schedule.

Ischiamondo, the local newspaper, ran the headline: "Holy Father, Come to Heal Your Ailing Knee Here."

After dining with area bishops, John Paul II met with 8,000 young people in the area in front of a small church. The Pope told them that he hoped to see them in Toronto for World Youth Day.

In his address, John Paul II mentioned the motto of World Youth Day, "You are the salt of the earth ... You are the light of the world."

He also exhorted the youths to give "taste and beauty to life," and to show "with concrete actions and the conviction of words that it is worthwhile to live and to live together the love that Jesus came to reveal to us and to give us."

John Paul II then encouraged his listeners to be the "light of the world," to spread the light of Christ in every realm, "especially where he is not known or loved, or even rejected."

"Make them understand with your life that the light that comes from above does not destroy what is human; on the contrary, it exalts it, like the sun that highlights shapes and colors with its brilliance," the Pope said. "God is not man´s competitor, but his real friend, his most loyal ally."

The youth responded with a song composed for the occasion: "Go on, Pope, Go on; Walk with Us."

The Pope arrived and returned to the Vatican in an Italian army helicopter. The trip, and long public engagements, appeared to put the Pontiff´s stamina to the test.

John Paul II is scheduled to travel to Azerbaijan and Bulgaria from May 22-26. He will fly to Canada at the end of July for World Youth Day, and then to Guatemala and Mexico. He is due to visit Poland in August.