LES COMBES, Italy, JULY 11, 2004 (Zenit.org).- Vacationing amid the forests and summits of the Alps, John Paul II emphasized the need for silence as the ambience in which to encounter God.

This was the message that a slightly tanned Pope gave to the 5,000 pilgrims who met and prayed the Angelus with him today in the village of Les Combes, in Valle d'Aosta, where he is spending a 12-day holiday.

"In this oasis of quiet, before the wonderful spectacle of nature, one easily experiences how profitable silence is, a good that today is ever more rare," the Holy Father said.

"The many opportunities of relation and information that modern society offers sometimes run the risk of robbing time for recollection, to the point of rendering persons incapable of reflecting and praying," he added.

"In reality, only in silence does man succeed in hearing in the depth of his conscience the voice of God, which really makes him free," the Pope said.

"And vacations can help to rediscover and cultivate this indispensable interior dimension of human life," John Paul II explained from the mountainous locality situated some 1,500 meters (5,000 feet) above sea level.

The Pope spoke with a clearer voice than usual. In his message, he addressed with "special affection" the "sick and those who are experiencing great difficulties and hardships," to express his spiritual closeness to them.

Before John Paul II's address, the pilgrims attended an open-air Mass, presided over by Bishop Giuseppe Anfossi of Aosta.

Since his arrival in the Alps, the Pontiff has gone on an outing every day with one exception, when rain and the threat of severe storms impeded his leaving the chalet where he is staying.

When the Pope returns from his outings, he generally meets with tourists and residents of the area who wait by the roadside to greet him.

Vatican Radio reported that in the mornings he asks for a press review of the situation in the world, especially the Middle East and Iraq.