VATICAN CITY, OCT. 3, 2002 ( In recalling the seventh centenary of the birth of St. Bridget of Sweden, John Paul II presented her as a model for today's woman.

In a message sent to Mother Tekla Famiglietti, general abbess of St. Bridget's Order of the Most Holy Savior, the Holy Father evoked the figure of the Swedish saint (1303-1373) as an example of life that "can be an effective stimulus for women today, so that they will be protagonists of a society where their dignity is fully respected."

"A society that will regard man and woman as protagonists with equal rights of the universal divine plan on humanity," the Pope said in the message published today by the Vatican Press Office.

Bridget married Ulf Gudmarsson, a nobleman, at the young age of 14 -- not an uncommon practice for the time. They had eight children. When her husband died, she founded the religious order, generally known as the Brigittines. She went to Rome in 1346, and died there on July 23, 1373. She left writings that recount her mystical experiences.

"Seeking to imitate Mary, she made every effort to be a wife, mother, faithful religious. Following in the Virgin's footsteps, she tried to do God's will totally in all circumstances," the Pope explained.

John Paul II pointed out four lessons to be learned from St. Bridget: "teacher in the acceptance of the cross as a central experience of faith"; "exemplary disciple of the Church in professing a full catholicity"; "model of contemplative and active life"; and "untiring apostle in the quest for unity among Christians."

The Pope has invited religious leaders, including the heirs to the Reformation, to participate in an ecumenical celebration in St. Peter's Basilica on Friday, the eve of St. Bridget's seventh centenary. The saint is revered by Lutherans as well as Catholics.

Princess Victoria of Sweden will attend the celebration, as will two Lutheran archbishops emeritus of Upsala, St. Bridget's birthplace: Bertil Wekstrom and Gunnar Weman.

Orthodox and Anglican representatives will also attend the celebration, as will Brother Roger, founder of the ecumenical Community of Taizé.

"As a woman of unity, she is presented as a witness of ecumenism," the Pope concludes in his message, adding that the "unity of the Church is a grace of the Spirit that must be constantly implored for with prayer."

In 1999, John Paul II proclaimed St. Bridget, St. Catherine of Siena, and St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein) as co-patronesses of Europe.