BARI, Italy, MAY 29, 2005 ( Benedict XVI reminded the Church that the Eucharist is the only antidote to the challenge of rampant consumerism.

In his first apostolic trip within Italy, the Pope addressed some 200,000 people who attended the Mass at which he presided today in the esplanade of Marisabella, in Bari, to close the 24th National Eucharistic Congress.

"From a spiritual point of view, the world in which we find ourselves, often characterized by rampant consumerism, religious indifference, and secularism closed to transcendence, might seem such a harsh wilderness as that 'great and terrible' wilderness" crossed by the people of Israel, said the Holy Father.

However, to cross the wilderness God offers Christians the Eucharist, the new manna, he added in the homily, which was interrupted by applause 14 times.

"We need this bread to cope with the toil and exhaustion of the journey," Benedict XVI said. "Sunday, day of the Lord, is the propitious occasion to draw strength from him, who is the Lord of life.

"The Sunday precept, therefore, is not a simple duty imposed from outside. To participate in the Sunday celebration and to be nourished with the Eucharistic bread is a need of a Christian, who in this way can find the necessary energy for the journey to be undertaken."

Not left alone

The path to follow is the law of God, which "goes in the direction inscribed in the very essence of man. To follow the way means man's fulfillment, to lose it, is to lose oneself," said the Holy Father.

Thanks to the Eucharist, the "Lord does not leave us alone on this journey. He is with us; what is more, he wishes to share our destiny by absorbing us," he stated.

The papal homily ended with a very concrete proposal: "We must rediscover the joy of the Christian Sunday."

The Bishop of Rome's conclusive prayer was: "May today's Christians again become aware of the decisive importance of the Sunday celebration, so that we will be able to draw from participation in the Eucharist the necessary drive for a new commitment to proclaim Christ 'our peace' to the world."

Like Pope John Paul II, Benedict XVI was able to attract a youthful audience.

"Be-ne-det-to!" the young people in the esplanade cried out on several occasions.

Tens of thousands of youths had spent the night in that same place, in their sleeping bags, after attending a vigil on Saturday evening organized by the Youth Pastoral Service of the Italian bishops' conference.