VATICAN CITY, OCT. 17, 2004 ( John Paul II opened the Year of the Eucharist, presenting Jesus as the response to the longing for life that rises from a world threatened by shadows.

After presiding over a solemn Mass today and adoring the Blessed Sacrament in a crowded St. Peter's Basilica, the Pope addressed a message through television to the pilgrims gathered in Guadalajara, Mexico, for the closing of the International Eucharistic Congress.

The Eucharist is "mystery of life!" the Pope said in Spanish. "What aspiration can be greater than life?"

"And yet, over this universal human longing, threatening shadows gather: the shadow of a culture that denies respect for life in each of its phases; the shadow of an indifference that condemns so many people to a fate of hunger and underdevelopment; the shadow of a scientific quest that at times is at the service of the egoism of the most powerful," he said.

The Holy Father's words were centered on the theme of the International Eucharistic Congress: "The Eucharist, Light and Life of the New Millennium."

"Mystery of light!" the Pope exclaimed. "Man's heart, oppressed by sin, at times disoriented and exhausted, tried by sufferings of all sorts, is in need of light. The world is in need of light, in the difficult quest for peace that seems remote at the beginning of a millennium disturbed and humiliated by violence, terrorism and war."

"The Eucharist is light!" he added. "In the Word of God constantly proclaimed, in the bread and wine changed into the Body and Blood of Christ, it is precisely he, the resurrected Lord, who opens the mind and heart and makes himself known, as happened to the two disciples of Emmaus 'when breaking the bread.'"

"In this convivial gesture we relive the sacrifice of the cross, we experience the infinite love of God and hear the call to spread the light of Christ among the men and women of our time," the Holy Father said.

John Paul II said that he saw in the television connection between the basilica, considered as the "heart of Christianity," and Guadalajara "a bridge" in which "all believers worldwide are united."

"The point of encounter is Jesus himself, really present in the Most Holy Eucharist with his mystery of death and resurrection, in which heaven and earth are united, and the different peoples and cultures come together," he said. "Christ is 'our peace, who has made us both one people.'"

Lastly, the Pontiff said that this Year of the Eucharist invites the Christian community "to have a more keen awareness of it, with more deeply felt celebration, with prolonged and fervent adoration, with a greater commitment of fraternity and service to the neediest."

The papal television message concluded with a prayer addressed to the Eucharistic Christ, imploring that he "not leave us prisoners of the shadows of night."

"Protect us in exhaustion, forgive our sins, guide our steps on the way of goodness," the Pope implored. "Bless the children, young people, the elderly, families and, particularly, the sick. Bless priests and consecrated persons. Bless the whole of humanity."

The Year of the Eucharist will end in October 2005 with a synod of the world's bishops, at the Vatican.