Though unable to attend the Mass, John Paul II had prepared a homily to be read by Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski, prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education, and principal celebrant of the solemn celebration held in St. Peter’s Basilica.
The annual event congregates rectors, faculty members and students of the Pontifical Universities and Ecclesiastical Faculties of Rome, where 20,000 students are currently pursuing higher studies.
The cardinal began the Mass by asking for prayers for the Holy Father, and announcing the publication of a collection of the Pope's addresses to the Universities as a gift from the professors and rectors of this “University.”
In the text of the homily prepared by the Pope for the occasion, he invited professors and students to invoke "the light and wisdom of the heart."
"Here is the essential way by which we can come to the discovery of truth. Here is a precious good to be invoked for all the children of the Church, so that they will be able to address the challenges of our time with courage," John Paul II said in the text, read by Cardinal Grocholewski.
For the Pope, the cardinal continued, "the invocation of the light for our heart acquires an altogether singular meaning in this liturgical assembly," composed of those who are preparing themselves, through an in-depth study of theology and other disciplines, "to take on pastoral tasks and responsibilities at the service of the Christian people."
Combine study "with prayer, meditation, and the constant search for the will of the Lord. In this way, it will be possible for you to understand with greater facility "the signs of the times,'" John Paul II exhorted.
"Man seeks -- today like yesterday -- satisfactory answers to the questions on the meaning of his life and death," the homily continued.
"During the period of theological formation, dear young people, you prepare yourselves to be able to give the answers of faith in a form adapted to the language and mentality of our time," he said.
"May everything, therefore, be oriented to such a lofty mission: to proclaim Christ and the liberating power of his Gospel," he concluded.