VATICAN CITY, JUNE 12, 2003 ( John Paul II says his propensity for travel began with an inspiration he felt at the very start of his almost 25-year pontificate.

"Right from the day I was elected as Bishop of Rome, Oct. 16, 1978, with special intensity and urgency I heard the echo of Jesus' command: 'Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to all of creation,'" the Pope told a gathering today at the Vatican.

"I thus felt the duty to imitate the Apostle Peter who 'went here and there among them all' to confirm and consolidate the vitality of the Church in fidelity to the Word and in service to the truth; to tell everyone that the Church loves them, that the Pope loves them and, likewise, to receive from them the encouragement and example of their goodness, of their faith," he added.

The Holy Father received some 200 people who have collaborated in his 100 international trips. Among the guests were officials of the Vatican Secretariat of State, the Italian Transport Minister, directors of Alitalia airlines, Swiss Guards, and journalists who have covered the 100 papal trips abroad.

The festive atmosphere was underlined by an orchestra of young religious, Legionaries of Christ, who played the most typical songs of the countries visited by John Paul II.

"Through your work you have allowed the Pope to go and meet the men and women of our time in the everyday places where they live," John Paul II told his guests. "You have helped him in his ministry as an itinerant missionary, anxious to proclaim to everyone the word of salvation."

The Holy Father stressed that his trips allow him to carry out "a specific exercise of the ministry proper to the Successor of Peter, that is, 'the perpetual and visible principle and foundation of unity in faith and in communion.'"

"In all my trips, I have felt like a pilgrim visiting that special shrine known as God's People," he said. "In these shrines I have been able to contemplate the face of Christ, both disfigured as on the cross or resplendent in light as on Easter morning."

At the same time, John Paul II stressed the importance of sharing with bishops their problems and joys, of meeting the faithful, especially young people, "and knowing more closely the life of Christian communities on diverse continents."

The Pope also mentioned his meetings with the faithful of other churches and ecclesial communities, and the followers of Judaism, Islam and other religions.

"The great multicolor assemblies of the People of God, gathered for eucharistic celebrations, remain impressed in my memory and on my heart as the most meaningful and most moving memories of my visits," he said.