VATICAN CITY, DEC. 11, 2002 ( John Paul II recognized the symptoms of "existential loneliness" that modern people experience, to the point of causing "disgust" in God. But at the same time he indicated that conversion is the way to regain hope.

The Pope based his meditation, in the presence of several thousand pilgrims gathered in Paul VI Hall, on the canticle in the Book of Jeremiah, 14:17-21, which is a lament of the people in time of famine and war.

"The description is, unfortunately, tragically present in so many regions of our planet," the Holy Father said, when evoking the words of the biblical passage: "If I walk out into the field, look! -- those slain by the sword. If I enter the city, look! -- those consumed by hunger."

Overwhelmed by the tragedy, the prophet asks dramatic questions on behalf of the people of Israel: "Is Zion loathsome to you?"

"The people, left to themselves, find themselves lost and overcome by terror," the Pope said. "Is not this existential loneliness, perhaps, the profound source of so much dissatisfaction, which we also perceive in our days?"

The answer to the question must be found in the very heart of the human being: "So much insecurity and so many inconsiderate reactions, which have their origin in having abandoned God, the rock of salvation," the Pope explained, quoting the canticle.

"At this point, there is a great change," he said. "The people return to God and address an intense prayer to him. First of all, they recognize their own sin with a brief but deeply felt confession of guilt: 'We recognize, O Lord ... that we have sinned against you,'" John Paul II said, rereading the text of the Old Testament.

"The silence of God, therefore, was provoked by man's rejection. If the people convert and return to the Lord, God will also show himself ready to go out to meet and embrace them," the Pope continued.

The passage, which the Church proposes on Fridays in the liturgy of lauds, ends by referring to two fundamental concepts: "remembrance" and "covenant."

Above all, the prophet reminds God that "he bound himself to his people through a covenant of fidelity and love," John Paul II said.

"Precisely because of this Covenant the people can be confident that the Lord will intervene to liberate and save them," he explained. "After the judgment of sin and the silence," God comes "close to his people again to give them life, peace and joy."

The Pope ended by inviting believers to "be certain that the Lord does not abandon us forever but, after every purifying trial, he returns to 'let his face shine upon you, and be gracious ... and give you peace.'"

Today's address was part of a series of meditations John Paul II began last year on the Psalms and canticles of the Old Testament, which have become part of the daily prayer of Christians.