DENVER -- Pope John Paul II made his first public reference here yesterday to the problem of sexual abuse of children by priests, saying that "every human means for responding to this evil must be implemented."
He told an invited audience of 18,000 at the McNichols Sports Arena, "At a time when all institutions are suspect, the church herself has not escaped reproach."
Noting that he had already written to the bishops of the United States about the "suffering and scandal caused by the sins of some ministers of the altar," the pope said that this tragedy demands "ardent, humble, confident prayer."
His grim comments came on a day when, in a variety of ways, he maintained his intense popularity with youthful Roman Catholics from 73 nations.
If their views of the world's problems were as volatile as Colorado's weather and as varied as their races, languages, economic levels, music, colorful headgear, T-shirts and banners, the elderly pope's advice to them remained as firm and enduring as the rock of Peter he is supposed to represent.
And the 186,000 World Youth Day pilgrims -- at least the most demonstrative among them -- appeared to like it that way.
They included nearly 500 from the Archdiocese of Baltimore who worshiped, sang, lighted candles, hiked and rested on blankets -- whether on the ground or the expanses of carpeted public spaces indoors, such as the huge Colorado Convention Center -- in solidarity with the visiting pope.
The scattered sites of their prayers, singing and discussions yesterday included Denver's Gothic-style cathedral, the wide, monumental Civic Center Park downtown -- renamed Celebration Plaza for last week's religious observances -- and muddy, rocky Cherry Creek State Park, 15 miles south of here.
About 60,000 pilgrims with flags, backpacks and water bottles -- about three times the number planned for -- hiked to Cherry Creek State Park, joined by more than that number in buses for last night's candlelight vigil with the pope.
The state park is where this morning's culminating celebration of the papal visit, the biennial World Youth Day Mass, is expected to draw 500,000 Catholics and the curious of other faiths from Denver and surrounding communities.
'The new evangelization'
At yesterday morning's worship in the cathedral, the pope was joined by rows of cardinals, archbishops and bishops robed in white.
As he presided, he was flanked by two of them, Vatican Cardinal Eduardo Pironio and the Baltimore-born archbishop of Denver, J. Francis Stafford.
Also present near the altar was Baltimore Archbishop William H. Keeler, the elected head of the U.S. hierarchy.
The pope's audience included about 300 student leaders from around the world -- 20 were from the United States -- and other invited guests whose garb ranged from their Sunday best to hiking shorts.
Noting with approval in his heavily accented English the music that has become the international language of the Denver gathering, the pope said, "So many different tongues ring out in praise of God."
He then delivered the core of his message to his diverse, often disputatious church of 1 billion souls, "Out of all the diversity of the young people gathered here -- diversity of origin, race and language -- the spirit of truth will create the deep and abiding unity of commitment to the new evangelization, in which the defense of human life, the promotion of human rights and the fostering of a civilization of love are urgent tasks."
The pope presided -- as he has at all public events since his arrival here Thursday -- under the watchful eyes of the Secret Service.
After all, he is, in addition to being a spiritual celebrity, the head of the tiny Vatican state.
His homily was answered by a burst of applause.
After the Mass, the long line of student representatives from around the world filed up to the pope, knelt and kissed his ring, whispered in his ear, embraced him and, in at least one case, kissed him on both cheeks.
They received from the smiling churchman a blessing, a pat on the shoulder or head, and a boxed rosary as his gift.
The background music was a syncopated singing -- to the accompaniment of hand-clapping -- of "We are one body, one body in Christ," repeated over and over. It is the theme song of World Youth Day '93.
Admiration for Pope John Paul seemed universal throughout yesterday in the international crowds of Catholic teen-agers and young adults, even when they demurred at certain details of his uncompromising, traditionalist spiritual guidance.
Typical was Brandi Adams, 17, of the Sacred Heart Parish in Glyndon, Baltimore County. She said she was one of only 10 Americans selected -- she didn't know how or why -- to be part of the "exchanging of the sign of peace," an embrace, with the pope during last night's vigil at Cherry Creek park.
Calling the response of teen-agers to the pope's presence "incredible," she said: "He is truly inspiring. He comes across as one of the most powerful, caring, most wonderful people in the world."