CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy, SEPT. 15, 2002 ( In an increasingly secularized world it is crucial that the faithful see in the cross a source of blessing and salvation, says John Paul II.

"For man, tormented by doubt and sin, it reveals that 'God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life,'" the Pope said today, quoting the Gospel of St. John.

"In a word, the cross is the supreme symbol of love," he added.

The Holy Father delivered his comments at midday to several thousand pilgrims in the courtyard of the papal summer residence. He is staying in Castel Gandolfo until the end of the month.

On Saturday the Church celebrated the liturgical feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, he noted, and today it marked the memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows.

"Christianity has its principal symbol in the cross," the Pope explained. "Wherever the Gospel has put down roots, the cross is there to indicate the presence of Christians."

"In churches and homes, in hospitals and schools, in cemeteries -- the cross has become the sign par excellence of a culture that draws truth and liberty, trust and hope from the message of Christ," he continued.

"In the process of secularization, which characterizes a great part of the contemporary world, it is all the more important that believers fix their gaze on this central sign of Revelation and gather its original and authentic meaning," he said.

In proclaiming the reality of the cross of Christ, the Church presents to the world "the ultimate and full meaning of every single existence and of the whole of human history," John Paul II emphasized.

"Christian young people carry it with pride through the streets of the world," he said. Over the past year, the World Youth Day cross was carried throughout Canada and even made it to 9/11's ground zero in New York. The cross will be carried throughout Germany before World Youth Day 2005 in Cologne.

The Pontiff concluded by entrusting to the Virgin Mary "young people and families, nations and the whole of humanity" especially "the sick and the suffering," "innocent victims of injustice and violence" and "Christians persecuted because of their faith."

"May the glorious cross of Christ be for all a pledge of hope, rescue and peace," he said.

This summer at Castel Gandolfo the Pope has come down to the courtyard to meet the faithful, instead of greeting them from a window. As at Wednesday general audiences, he has also greeted a few pilgrims personally at the end of the Sunday encounters.