VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope Benedict lamented the widespread abandonment of religion in Western countries in a Holy Thursday homily, saying the heartlands of Christianity were turning away from their faith.
The 84-year-old German-born pontiff said it sometimes seemed as if the West had become bored by its own history and culture.
"Have not we -- the people of God -- become to a large extent a people of unbelief and distance from God?" he said during a ceremony in St. Peters Basilica.
"Is it perhaps the case that the West, the heartlands of Christianity, are tired of their faith?"
Approaching the sixth Easter of his pontificate, the pope said the beatification of his Polish predecessor, John Paul II, on May 1 would be a chance to remember a man with great faith.
"For all the shame we feel over our failings, we must not forget that today too there are radiant examples of faith, people who give hope to the world," Pope Benedict said.
John Paul's beatification is set to be the biggest event in Rome since the death of the charismatic and highly popular pope in 2005, when millions came to view his body or attend his funeral.
Vatican officials expect at least 300,000 people -- including tens of thousands from his native Poland -- to come to the Italian capital for the three days of events during which he will be declared "blessed," the last step before sainthood.
Pope Benedict was speaking at a Holy Thursday service to mark Christ's founding of the priesthood at the Last Supper on the night before he died.
Later Thursday the Pope will wash and dry the feet of 12 men at another traditional service commemorating Christ's gesture of humility to his apostles.
(Reporting by Catherine Hornby, editing by Paul Taylor)