VATICAN CITY, FEB. 27, 2004 ( John Paul II gave the Discalced Carmelites of Wadowice, his birthplace, his papal ring to decorate a painting of St. Joseph.

On March 19, solemnity of the husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the painting will be decorated at Mass in the presence of several Polish bishops and Carmelite representatives.

The event, which has stirred wide interest in Poland, will be preceded by a novena, the Carmelites said.

John Paul II was inspired to make this gift by the example of his predecessor, Blessed John XXIII, who in the year of the inauguration of the Second Vatican Council, offered his papal ring to decorate the hand of St. Joseph in the cathedral of Kalisz.

"Inspired by the Gospel," John Paul II wrote in a papal bull dated last Oct. 16, "the Fathers of the Church from the first centuries underlined that St. Joseph, who had lovingly looked after Mary and dedicated himself to the joyful task of educating Jesus Christ, also looks after and protects the Church, of which Mary is both exemplar and model."

John Paul II, who marked the 25th anniversary of his election to the papacy that day, expressed in the text his gratitude "to this tireless defender of Christ" for his protection.

"In the city where I was born, St. Joseph, the Patron Saint of my Baptism, bestowed his protection on the People of God in the Discalced Carmelite Church 'on the hill,' where his painting is venerated above the high altar," the Pope wrote.

"I offer the papal ring, in the twenty fifth year of my pontificate, for a similar decoration of the painting of him who nourished the Son of God, venerated in the Carmelite Church, Wadowice," he continued.

"May this ring," he added, "symbol of married love, which will be placed on the hand of St. Joseph in the painting of Wadowice, remind his devotees that the Head of the Holy Family is 'that just man of Nazareth (who) possesses the clear characteristics of a husband ... and remained faithful to God's call until the end ... and received the same love, through whose power the Eternal Father has predestined us to be His adopted children through Jesus Christ.'"

John Paul II also thanks the Carmelites, "faithful guardians of their Church in Wadowice, for all that I received since my childhood from the Carmelite School of Spirituality."

The Holy Father exhorts the religious, following "the example of their Holy Mother, Teresa of Jesus," to "contemplate St. Joseph as the perfect model of intimacy with Jesus and Mary, Patron of interior prayer and untiring service to his brothers and sisters."