Pope Benedict thanked consecrated women virgins gathering at the Vatican on Thursday for their "total gift" to Christ, praising a holy rite that he recognized was difficult for some non-Catholics to understand.
"(Live your lives) in such a way that you always irradiate the dignity of being the wife of Christ," the pope said in an address to hundreds of consecrated virgins from dozens of countries meeting in Rome.
Consecrated virgins are women who take a vow of lifelong chastity in service of the Church. The Vatican says they are "betrothed mystically to Christ" through the holy rite.
Committed virgins were the forerunners of nuns in the Roman Catholic Church. The Vatican revived the rite, not practiced for centuries, in 1970.
The pope said the women's vocation was deeply meaningful, even if it could be seen as "dark and useless" by some of those who do not share the Catholic faith.
A U.S. group which attended the conference estimated there are more than 3,000 consecrated Catholic virgins worldwide.