CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy, SEPT. 23, 2002 ( John Paul II proposed two priorities for all bishops: to nourish a desire for holiness among people in a world without ideals, and to help priests, especially those experiencing difficulties.

The Pope addressed these priorities when he met today with 120 bishops from 33 countries, gathered at the papal summer residence of Castel Gandolfo.

The prelates have been taking part in a 10-day meeting in Rome designed to give them practical advice on how to handle their new pastoral duties. The first such meeting, organized by the Vatican Congregation for Bishops, was held last year.

The Holy Father said that in today's society, characterized by religious indifference and at times even hostility, to be a bishop is one of the most difficult missions.

"The primary task of a pastor is to foster an authentic desire for holiness in all believers, a holiness to which we are all called and in which the aspirations of the human being culminate," John Paul II said in his address to the bishops.

"Another of your priorities is attention to your priests, who are the closest collaborators of your ministry," he added. "The spiritual care of the priest is a primary duty of every diocesan bishop."

"The gesture of the priest who, on the day of priestly ordination, puts his own hands in the hands of the bishop, professing to him 'filial respect and obedience,' can at first sight seem like a gesture in only one sense," the Holy Father explained. "The gesture, in reality, commits both of them: the priest and the bishop."

"The young priest chooses to entrust himself to the bishop and, for his part, the bishop commits himself to take care of those hands," the Pope said. "In this way the bishop becomes responsible for the fate of the hands which he embraces between his own. A priest must be able to feel, especially in moments of difficulty, of loneliness, that his hands are held tightly by the bishop's."

"Moreover, you must be passionately dedicated to promoting genuine vocations to the priesthood, with prayer, the testimony of life, and pastoral solicitude," the Pontiff said.

However, the Holy Father acknowledged that this challenge needs untold commitment in a world "so rich in technical means, material means and comforts," but which "appears tragically poor in terms of ends, values and ideals."

"The man of today, deprived of references to values, often withdraws to restricted and relative horizons. In this agnostic and at times hostile context, the mission of a bishop is not easy," the Pope continued.

"However, we must not give in to pessimism and discouragement, because the Spirit guides the Church and gives it, with his vigorous breath, the encouragement to dare to seek new methods of evangelization, in order to be able to reach still-unexplored realms," John Paul II said.

"Christian truth is attractive and persuasive precisely because it can imprint strong direction to human existence, proclaiming in a convincing way that Christ is the only Savior of humankind," he added. "This proclamation continues to be valid today, as it was at the beginning of Christianity, when the first great missionary expansion of the Gospel was undertaken."

Lastly, the Holy Father thanked the Legionaries of Christ for the reception they gave the bishops. The prelates held their meeting at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical Athenaeum, the university center directed by the Legionaries in Rome.