Pope John Paul II in Italian Alps

VATICAN CITY, JULY 16 (ZENIT.org).- John Paul II dedicated his only scheduled public meeting during his 12 vacation days to greet all those who are enjoying days of rest at this time, but especially those who cannot go on vacation.

At noon today, Sunday, the Alpine locality of Les Combes, where the Pope has been relaxing since July 10, offered an unusual sight. As opposed to previous years, this year the chalet where the Holy Father is staying is surrounded by more land so that all who wished to participate in the "Angelus" found ample space.

People began arriving at 7:30 a.m. By noon there was a crowd of 5,000 who prayed the "Angelus" with the Holy Father. Among those present were craftsmen and farm workers, who gave the Pope the gifts they brought for him: typical crafts of the area, carved wooden statues, and regional cheeses. The children of the school choir sang a few mountain songs for him. The crowd of pilgrims was enclosed by the snow-capped peaks of Mont Blanc and Grand Combin, at a moment when the sun struggled to pierce the dense layer of clouds.

Vacation time became the principal topic of the Pope's address: "Here, in the midst of lovely forests and valleys, the body is restored and the spirit can be more dedicated to reflection and contemplation."

From the serenity of the Alps, the Holy Father wished to "send greetings to those who are on vacation in this valley and elsewhere, in the mountains or at the beach. I invite all to make these days of merited summer rest a time of interior enrichment and enjoyable family leisure."

Not everyone can go away to enjoy a few days of merited rest, and the Pontiff did not wish to overlook them."I affectionately greet the sick, elderly, imprisoned, and persons who are alone. I assure each one of my daily remembrance in prayer." Last Sunday, for the Jubilee in Prisons, the Pope met symbolically with the prisoners of the "Regina Coeli" prison in Rome.

Today was also the feast of the Virgin of Mount Carmel. The summit of that mountain is constantly referred to in the Bible because of its singular attraction. Consequently, the Pope commented on the symbolic elements enclosed in that peak of Israel, near Haifa, from which the prophet Elijah "vigorously defended the integrity and purity of the faith of the chosen people in the living God," the Pope said. "In the 12th century after Christ, on that same mountain some hermits met and dedicated themselves to contemplation and penance. Their spiritual experience gave origin to the Order of Carmelites."

Karol Wojtyla, who, prior to entering the Krakow seminary, gave serious thought to becoming a Carmelite, after reading the writings of St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila, continued to explain that "Carmel indicates symbolically the mountain of total adhesion to the divine will and our eternal salvation. We are all called to climb this spiritual mountain courageously and without pausing. Walking together with the Virgin, model of total fidelity to the Lord, we will not fear obstacles or difficulties. Sustained by her maternal intercession, like Elijah, we will be able to fulfil our vocation of authentic prophets of the Gospel in our time."

The Pope's vacation this Jubilee year is brief; it will end on July 22. Over the last few days of very unstable weather, John Paul II has gone by car with his collaborators and friends to enjoy the beautiful scenery. In addition to spending much time in conversation, as Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls, who is accompanying the Pope, confirmed today, the Holy Father has spent time reading various books (including literature, history, and philosophy), praying, and thinking about the forthcoming stages of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000.

In statements on Italian television, Navarro-Valls confirmed specifically that the Pope's trip to Damascus, Syria, is being planned, so that the Holy Father can follow in St. Paul's footsteps. However, the spokesman did not give a date, as the Holy Father's schedule over the next months is very tightly packed. ZE00071609