VATICAN CITY, MAY 4, 2004 ( Aware that work "has been profaned by sin and contaminated by egoism," John Paul II says that it is an activity that "needs to be redeemed."

In a message to the participants of the national congress of the diocesan presidencies of Italian Catholic Action, read last Friday at a prayer vigil in St. Peter's Basilica, on the eve of the feast of St. Joseph the Worker, the Pope reflected on the meaning of work.

In the text, the Holy Father stated his intention to attend the conclusion of Italian Catholic Action's pilgrimage to Loreto next Sept. 5. Loreto is where, according to tradition, the Holy House of the Virgin Mary is kept, transported from Nazareth in 1294.

The Holy House of Loreto, the Pope said, is a reminder of the mystery of Nazareth, "which never ceases to amaze us! Why did the Son of God (...) want to spend such a long time subjected to the hard exhaustion of work?"

From this "gospel of work" one can deduce that "Jesus was a man of work and that work enabled him to develop his humanity," in addition to the fact that "the work of Nazareth constituted for Jesus a way to dedicate himself to the 'affairs of the Father,'" witnessing that "the work of the Creator is prolonged" through work, the Holy Father explained.

"According to God's providential plan, man, by working, realizes his own humanity and that of others: In fact, work 'forms man and, in a certain sense, creates him,'" the Holy Father stated.

"But work -- Christ teaches us -- is a value that has been profaned by sin and contaminated by egoism and because of this, as is true of all human reality, it needs to be redeemed," he added.

The Pope noted that work must be rescued "from the logic of profit, from the lack of solidarity, from the fever of earning ever more, from the desire to accumulate and consume," because when it is subjected to "inhuman wealth" work becomes a "seductive and merciless idol."

Liberation from these chains comes when there is a "return to the austere words of the Divine Master: 'For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?'" the Holy Father asked his listeners.

The "divine Worker of Nazareth" also "reminds us that 'life is more than food' and that work is for man, not man for work. What makes a life great is not the entity of gain, nor the type of profession, or the level of the career. Man is worth infinitely more than the goods he produces or possesses," the Pope said.

Thus, John Paul II invited his listeners to be alert, because "the heart that is inordinately concerned with food and clothing" and is not concerned about "the poorest brothers, becomes inexorably a heart blinded by riches, incapable of solidarity and of selfless love, obstinately closed to God and to brothers."

"It corresponds to Christians, individually or in association, in particular to the lay faithful, to enter the fabric of civil society to inscribe the divine law in the life of the earthly city," the Pope continued in his message to Italian Catholic Action leaders and members.

The Holy Father exhorted them "to foster the creation of proper occasions of work for all young people, so that they will be able to form a family in worthy conditions of life, the first of them, in their own home."

In addition, the Pope called for "equitable and fair treatment of all workers," the combating of "all exploitation," and respect for the "immigrants' work contracts."

"Never neglect the effort of an apostolate of first missionary evangelization among the multitude of immigrants who are not Christians," he exhorted.

Finally, John Paul II recommended forcefully that Sunday must be for all those who believe in Christ a "day of rest and celebration, day of the Lord and of the community, of the family and of the poor."