KRAKOW, Poland, AUG. 18, 2002 ( At the largest Mass in Polish history, John Paul II beatified four offspring of the nation and presented the message of God's mercy as the answer to contemporary man's suffering.

Some 2.2 million people gathered in Krakow's Blonie Park for the ceremony. An additional 1 million crowded the surroundings, according to police sources. It was the largest gathering in modern Polish history.

In the homily, delivered under a burning sun that caused several people to faint, the Polish-born Pope summarized the thought that has characterized his 23-year pontificate.

He reminded his listeners that from "the beginning of her existence the Church, pointing to the mystery of the cross and the Resurrection, has preached the mercy of God, a pledge of hope and a source of salvation for man."

"Nonetheless," he said, "it would appear that we today have been particularly called to proclaim this message before the world. We cannot neglect this mission, if God himself has called us to it through the testimony of St. Faustina Kowalska," the Polish mystic (1905-1938) who received revelations and visions from Christ on his Divine Mercy.

"God has chosen our own times for this purpose," John Paul II said in his long homily at the Mass. "Perhaps because the 20th century, despite indisputable achievements in many areas, was marked in a particular way by the 'mystery of iniquity.' With this heritage both of good and evil, we have entered the new millennium."

"New prospects of development are opening up before mankind, together with hitherto unheard-of dangers. Frequently man lives as if God did not exist, and even puts himself in God's place. He claims for himself the Creator's right to interfere in the mystery of human life," John Paul II continued.

Man "wishes to determine human life through genetic manipulation and to establish the limit of death," the Holy Father added. "Rejecting divine law and moral principles, he openly attacks the family. In a variety of ways he attempts to silence the voice of God in human hearts; he wishes to make God the 'great absence' in the culture and the conscience of peoples. The 'mystery of iniquity' continues to mark the reality of the world."

"In experiencing this mystery, man lives in fear of the future, of emptiness, of suffering, of annihilation," he added. "Perhaps for this reason, it is as if Christ, using the testimony of a lowly Sister, entered our time in order to indicate clearly the source of relief and hope found in the eternal mercy of God."

The Pope continued: "The message of merciful love needs to resound forcefully anew. The world needs this love. The hour has come to bring Christ's message to everyone: to rulers and the oppressed, to those whose humanity and dignity seem lost in the 'mysterium iniquitatis.'"

"The hour has come when the message of Divine Mercy is able to fill hearts with hope and to become the spark of a new civilization: the civilization of love," the Holy Father stressed.

The Pope went on to explain that the Church not only wishes to proclaim this message with "convincing words," but also by "the ready practice of mercy." Hence, he proposed the example of the four new blessed, "united by that particular feature of holiness which is devotion to the cause of mercy."

The newly beatified are Zygmunt Szczesny Felinski (1822-1895), archbishop of Krakow for 16 months before being deported to Siberia by the czar; Father Jan Balicki (1869-1948), confessor and teacher of seminarians; Jesuit Jan Beyzym (1850-1912), "apostle of lepers" in Madagascar; and Sister Sancja Szymkowiak (1910-1942), known as "the angel of goodness" by English and French prisoners of the German army during World War II.

Among those attending the beatification Mass were Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski, Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus and Slovakian President Rudolf Schuster. The papal visit ends Monday.