VATICAN CITY, NOV. 4, 2004 ( John Paul II celebrated his name day, the feast of St. Charles Borromeo, surrounded by thousands of Poles who came to Rome to congratulate him.

It is a tradition that goes back 26 years, to the beginning of Karol Wojtyla's pontificate. "Karol" is Polish for "Charles." The pilgrims were from the Archdiocese of Gdansk, geographic origin of the Solidarnity labor union, and from the Diocese of Tarnow.

The day was a holiday in the Vatican. The Holy Father's fellow countrymen gathered in Paul VI Hall to greet him. Shortly before, the Pope had received Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi in audience.

The Pontiff addressed the pilgrims in Polish, remarking that St. Charles Borromeo died 420 years ago.

Remembering the archbishop of Milan, "reformer of the Church after the Council of Trent," the Pope spoke with admiration for St. Charles' support for the poor.

"His piety was based on love for the cross of Christ and the mystery of his death and resurrection," John Paul II said. "This love was expressed in his care for the fervent celebration of the holy Mass and adoration of Christ present in the Eucharist."

At the beginning of the Year of the Eucharist, the Holy Father proposed the saint as an example and "inspiration for all of us when it comes to living this particular period."

John Paul II and Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, president of Italy – both sharing the same name and both born in 1920 -- exchanged congratulations by telephone on their name day.