VATICAN CITY, MARCH 23, 2004 ( The poverty, injustice and secularism that darken contemporary society demand a bold proclamation of Christ as Lord, says John Paul II.

The Pope expressed this message today when he received in audience the participants in the general chapter of the Missionary Sisters of the Catholic Apostolate, the Pallottines.

"In a world where the shadows of poverty, injustice and secularism are cast over every continent, the need for authentic disciples of Jesus Christ remains as urgent as ever," the Holy Father said in English.

"It is precisely witness to Christ's Gospel that dispels the darkness and illuminates the way of peace, fostering hope in the hearts of even the most marginalized and dejected of people," he added in his message addressed to Mother Stella Holisz, superior general of the congregation.

"The men and women you encounter from many religions, cultures and social groups, searching for meaning and dignity in their lives, can never have their longings fulfilled by some vague religiosity," he said.

"It is only by joyful fidelity to Christ and by a bold proclamation of him as Lord -- a testimony founded on his command to go and make disciples of all nations -- that you can assist others to come to know him. In so doing you will experience the full beauty and fruitfulness of your missionary vocation," the Pope added.

"Such witness demands that you yourselves first contemplate the face of Christ. Your initial and ongoing formation programs must therefore assist all the sisters to conform themselves totally to Christ and his love of the Father," he said.

"Your vocation as missionaries, patterned on the lives of the apostles, eloquently shows that the more one lives in Christ the better one serves him in others, going even to the furthest missionary outposts and facing the greatest dangers," the Holy Father continued.

"Drawn up into Christ's impelling love, you cannot but speak of this source of the hope and joy that kindled your first response to the call of the Lord and which has continued to strengthen you in the life of apostolic service to others," he said.

The theme of the Pallottines' general chapter is "Rekindle Your First Love -- Respond to the Challenges of Today." The congregation, founded by Vincent Pallotti (1795-1850), has 658 women religious and novices, in 81 houses around the world.