VATICAN CITY, FEB. 11, 2003 ( John Paul II invited the Bernardine Franciscans to be ever more faithful witnesses of the spirit of St. Francis in a world that needs the traits of the "Poverello of Assisi."

The Pope expressed this challenge to a group of Friars Minor he received in audience on the occasion of the 550th anniversary of their presence in Poland and Ukraine.

In his address to the religious, the Holy Father joined in the community's thanksgiving and spoke about the good their presence has borne on Polish soil.

Referring to the link between the anniversary and the foundation of the religious' monastery in Krakow, he recalled that monastery with affection as well as the Basilica on Bernardynska Street, which he often visited in his youth, and later as a priest and eventually bishop of the city.

Addressing the group of Friars Minor, John Paul II said that mankind and the world "await, perhaps more than ever, to be invaded by the spirit of St. Francis."

Indeed, "the man of today needs the faith, hope and charity of Francis; he needs the joy that springs from poverty of spirit, that is, from inner freedom."

Man also needs "to learn again to love all that God has created, and he needs peace and goodness to reign in families, society and among nations," the Pope concluded.