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Page last updated at 16:09 GMT, Sunday, 17 July 2005 17:09 UK

Pope hails benefits of holidays

Pope Benedict XVI delivers blessing in Les Combes d'Introd, near Aosta, Italy
Pope Benedict said holidays had 'become almost a necessity'

Pope Benedict XVI, who is on holiday in the Italian Alps, has extolled the virtue of taking a holiday to escape the frenetic pace of day-to-day life.

He himself began a mountain holiday in the secluded chalet used by his predecessor John Paul II in northern Italy's Aosta Valley on Monday.

His activities have included taking mountain walks, playing Mozart on the piano, praying, writing and studying.

He will later travel to his summer residence of Castel Gandolfo near Rome.

He gave thanks for his own holidays "after the first months of demanding pastoral service".

In contact with nature, people can again find their true dimension - they rediscover themselves as creatures, small but at the same time unique
Pope Benedict XVI

In his first public address since his arrival, he urged thousands of faithful to use holidays for "prayer, reading and meditation on the deep meaning of life, surrounded by family and loved ones".

He said holidays "have become almost a necessity to recover in body and spirit, especially for those who live in the city where the often frenetic conditions of life leave little space for silence and reflection.

"In contact with nature, people can again find their true dimension. They rediscover themselves as creatures, small but at the same time unique."

The pontiff was speaking to local residents and tourists who turned out for Sunday Mass near the mountain village of Les Combes in the shadow of Mont Blanc.

John Paul II enjoyed many summers at the wood-and-stone chalet at the foot of Mount Paradise, which is surrounded by woodland.

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