VATICAN CITY, JULY 6, 2003 ( At the close of centenary year of St. Maria Goretti's death, John Paul II presented chastity to young people as the "safeguard" of love.

"What does this fragile but mature Christian girl say to young people today with her life, but, above all, with her heroic death?" the Pope said today, before praying the midday Angelus with several thousand pilgrims in St. Peter's Square.

"Marietta, as she was familiarly called, reminds young people of the third millennium that true happiness calls for courage and a spirit of sacrifice, the rejection of any compromise with evil, and readiness to pay in person, including with death, for one's faithfulness to God and his commandments," he said.

Maria Goretti, an 11-year-old from Nettuno, a town south of Rome, died July 6, 1902, after trying to fend off an attack by Alessandro Serenelli, who tried to rape her. At her canonization on June 24, 1950, Pope Pius XII described her as a "little and gentle martyr of purity."

"Today, pleasure and egoism, or even immorality, are often exalted, in the name of false ideals of freedom and happiness," John Paul II said. "It is necessary to reaffirm with clarity that purity of heart and body must be defended, because chastity safeguards authentic love."

"May St. Maria Goretti help all young people to experience the beauty and joy of the evangelical beatitude: 'Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God,'" he said. "Purity of heart, like every virtue, calls for daily training of the will and constant interior discipline. It requires, above all, assiduous recourse to God in prayer."

The Pope added: "Numerous occupations and the accelerated speed of life at times make it difficult to cultivate this important spiritual dimension. Summer vacations, however, which begin for many, precisely, in these days, if they are not 'burnt' in dissipation and simple diversion, can become a propitious occasion to give new breath to the interior life."