VATICAN CITY, FEB.13, 2005 ( The mystery of the Eucharist will be the principle theme of this year's Spiritual Exercises in the Vatican, explained the retreat master.

Bishop Renato Corti of Novara, vice president of the Italian episcopal conference and consultor of the Congregation for Clergy, known for his profound spirituality and asceticism, will direct the meditations for John Paul II and members of the Curia.

The overall theme of the week-long retreat is "The Church at the Service of the New and Eternal Covenant."

"The Body and Blood of Christ, present in the sacrament of the Eucharist, are the living synthesis of the whole history of salvation," explained the preacher today on Vatican Radio.

Bishop Corti said that his choose this theme because of the fact that this retreat takes place in the Year of the Eucharist. His meditations are inspired by John Paul II's apostolic letter "Mane Nobiscum Domine," published in October for this year.

In that text, the Pope says that he convoked the Eucharistic year because he wants "the Eucharist to continue to shine in all the splendor of its mystery."

For John Paul II, Bishop Corti said, these twelve months must be a "precious occasion for a renewed awareness of the incomparable treasure that Christ has entrusted to his Church."

Echoing the Pope's wishes that this year be a "stimulus" to a more profound love for the Eucharist, the retreat master expressed his own desire that this year will serve to "recognize in the Eucharist the root and secret of the spiritual life of the faithful, as well as of every initiative of the local Church."

In face of the temptation to "soften" the Gospel, the bishop recommends "such a love for Jesus that one can only say what Jesus said, as Peter and John expressed before the Sanhedrin: 'It is impossible for us not to speak about what we have seen and heard'" (Acts: 4:20).

John Paul II and the Curia began exercises today with exposition of the Eucharistic, the celebration of vespers, the introductory meditation, eucharistic adoration and benediction.

Each day next week the participants will gather to pray the Liturgy of the Hours and to hear four daily meditations. After the last meditation, the Rosary will be prayed followed by eucharistic adoration and Benediction.

On Saturday morning after Mass, there will be adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament in St. Peter's Basilica, marking the end of exercises.

The meditations are taking place in the "Redemptoris Mater" Chapel in the Apostolic Palace, which has been completely redone with over 600 square meters of mosaics on the walls and ceilings as a gift to the Holy Father for his 50th anniversary of ordination to priesthood.

During the week of Spiritual Exercises, the Pope's audiences will be suspended, including Wednesday's General Audience.

The idea of holding Spiritual Exercises in the Vatican dates back to 1929, during Pius XI's pontificate. He held exercises during Advent, but Pope Paul VI transferred it to the first week of Lent.