VATICAN CITY, MAY 16, 2005 ( The newly beatified Marianne Cope and Ascensión of the Heart of Jesus are "exemplary witnesses of the charity of Christ," says Benedict XVI.

Receiving in audience today the 2,500 pilgrims who traveled to Rome for their beatification in St. Peter's Basilica, the Holy Father reviewed the testimony of the two religious.

Cardinal José Saraiva Martins, prefect of the Congregation for Sainthood Causes, presided over the ceremony on Saturday in the Pope's name.

"These two new blesseds help us to better understand the meaning and value of our Christian vocation," said the Holy Father in Italian to the faithful -- among whom were many Latin Americans, Spaniards and Americans -- congregated in the Paul VI Hall.

Speaking in English, the Pope referred to the life of American Marianne Cope (1838-1918) as "one of profound faith and love which bore fruit in a missionary spirit of immense hope and trust."

"In 1862 she entered the congregation of the Franciscan Sisters of Syracuse, where she imbibed the particular spirituality of Saint Francis of Assisi, dedicating herself wholeheartedly to spiritual and corporal works of mercy," he added.

"Her own experience of consecrated life saw an extraordinary apostolate unfold, adorned with heroic virtue," continued the Pontiff.

"As is well known, while Mother Marianne was superior general of her congregation the then bishop of Honolulu invited the order to come to Hawaii and work among the lepers. Leprosy was spreading rapidly and causing unspeakable suffering and misery among the afflicted," he said.

"Fifty other congregations received the same plea for assistance, but only Mother Marianne, in the name of her sisters, responded positively. True to the charism of the order and in imitation of Saint Francis, who had embraced lepers, Mother Marianne volunteered for the mission with a trusting 'Yes!' And for 35 years, until her death in 1918, our new blessed dedicated her life to the love and service of lepers on the islands of Maui and Molokai."

"Undoubtedly, the generosity of Mother Marianne was, humanly speaking, exemplary. Good intentions and selflessness alone, however, do not adequately explain her vocation. It is only the perspective of faith which enables us to understand her witness -- as a Christian and as a religious -- to the sacrificial love which reaches its fullness in Jesus Christ. All that she achieved was inspired by her personal love of the Lord, which she in turn expressed through her love of those abandoned and rejected by society in a most wretched way."

"Let us today be inspired by Blessed Marianne Cope to renew our commitment to walk the path of holiness," stated the Holy Father.

Speaking in Spanish, Benedict XVI also spoke about Ascensión of the Heart of Jesus (1868-1940), who was christened Florentina Nicol Goñi, co-founder of the Dominican Missionary Sisters of the Most Holy Rosary, instituted for the evangelization of the Amazonian tribes.

Addressing these religious, the Holy Father encouraged them to follow the example of their blessed founder, keeping "alive the experience of God's closeness in the missionary life."

Benedict XVI said that Ascensión of the Heart of Jesus liked to say: "how very close one feels God."