VATICAN CITY, MAR 24, 2005 (VIS) - Today, Holy Thursday, at 9.30 a.m. in the Vatican Basilica, Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, presided in the Pope's name at the Chrism Mass, which is celebrated on this day in all the cathedral churches of the world. Concelebrants included cardinals, bishops and priests who are in Rome for Easter.

At the beginning of Mass, the cardinal read out a message from John Paul II in which he assures the faithful that "from my apartment, by means of television, I am spiritually among you. Together with you and the entire family of believers, I pray that the Church may never lack numerous saintly priests."

In the homily, Cardinal Re highlighted how on Holy Thursday priests and bishops "renew the promises with which we bound ourselves to Christ, Priest, on the day of our ordination." This calls for "commitment and, I would say, a taste for fully living the beauty of our ministry, following Christ and joyously dedicated to the service of others."

The cardinal continued: "In this year of the Eucharist - which helps us to discover the beauty, power and centrality of the Eucharist - the words of the Encyclical 'Ecclesia De Eucharistia' resound with particular eloquence in our minds and our hearts: 'the Church draws her life from the Eucharist;' the Eucharist is 'the heart of the mystery of the Church;' it must also be ' the heart of the mystery of priestly ministry'."

After emphasizing that John Paul II wrote these words two years ago, the prefect of the Congregation for Bishops went on: "In his absence, he is more than ever present at this Chrism Mass, and we want to thank him for the witness that he continues to give us with his example of serene abandonment to God that associates him with the mystery of the Cross."

Following the homily, there was the renewal of priestly vows and the blessing of the oil used for catechumens, the sick and those being confirmed.

At 5:30 p.m., Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo, president of the Pontifical Council for the Family, presided in the Pope's name at the Mass of the Lord's Supper. During the Eucharistic celebration the feet of 12 priests were washed.

In a brief message read out at the beginning of the Eucharistic celebration, the Holy Father wrote "I am close to you with my mind and my heart," and he recalled that on that night two thousand years ago Jesus "first washed the feet of the Apostles, wanting to give them the example of a love that becomes humble and concrete service. He then consecrated the bread and wine as a sacrament of His Body and His Blood, given in sacrifice for our salvation."

In the homily, Cardinal Lopez Trujillo affirmed that the "washing of the feet is proof of total, decisive and definitive love, 'to the extreme.' Without losing the lordship due to His condition as the Son of God, the Lord became a servant, and this giving of Himself was sealed on the Cross where the Lamb of God saved humanity."

After highlighting how, "in a widespread culture of pleasure that feels great fear of suffering, the Master calls on the disciples to take up the cross," the cardinal said: "We are called to a profound conversion to God and to true values, without which there will be no future worthy of man, the image of God, who through redemption attains the highest dignity of an image: being the child of God."

Cardinal Trujillo indicated that the Eucharist "opens the heart of the entire human family to the poor and needy who have the right to a 'globalization of solidarity,' and to recognition and respect for the rights of man and the rights of the family, which are fundamental. The weakest, the innocent, the defenseless and the sick are often considered to be a heavy burden. Man is not the arbiter of life and cannot deny this precious gift. We cannot hate that which God loves.

"Immersed in the mystery of Easter," he concluded, "our fervent prayers are for the Holy Father, strenuous defender and witness of the true quality of life, which we must proclaim and defend, grateful to the Lord of life for his most generous service to the Church and to humanity."

After the homily, the traditional rite of the washing of the feet of 12 priests took place. At the Pope's request, the offering of the Mass will be given to the people of Venezuela, hit by devastating floods in the month of February.