Pope urges young people to resist terror and hatred

Ailing pontiff's 1st speech at world conference in Canada draws 400,000

July 26, 2002|By John Rivera | John Rivera,SUN STAFF

TORONTO - Roman Catholic youths from around the world gave Pope John Paul II a rowdy welcome worthy of a rock star yesterday as the pontiff called on them to reject the hatred of violence and terror and to resist the materialism of Western culture.

A cheering crowd of about 400,000 youths from 170 nations gathered at a public park on the shores of Lake Ontario to greet Pope John Paul, who made his first appearance at the weeklong 17th World Youth Day celebration. The crowd included more than 50,000 from the United States.

The pope made no mention of the clergy sex abuse scandal troubling the U.S. church - which was blamed in part for holding down attendance - but he did allude to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, contrasting Christian virtues with "a world often laid waste with violence and terror."

"Last year we saw with dramatic clarity the tragic face of human malice," the pope said. "We saw what happens when hatred, sin and death take command."

But today, he said, Jesus' "is a voice of life, of hope, of forgiveness, a voice of justice and peace. Let us listen to this voice!"

As has often happened, the encounter with the young people seemed to renew the ailing 82-year-old pontiff's vigor.

After arriving in a helicopter from a retreat on nearby Strawberry Island and riding through the ecstatic throng in his popemobile, Pope John Paul slowly walked with the aid of a cane and the arm of an assistant to his seat on the stage.

He sat and waved his white skullcap to acknowledge the waves of applause, which prevented the program from starting for several minutes. Chants of "John Paul II, we love you" resounded in a symphony of languages. He read his message in full in French and English, another sign of how the youthful group energized him. The two are Canada's official languages.

In his remarks, the Polish-born pontiff repeated a familiar plea to young people, asking them not to embrace the crass materialism he sees as rampant in modern Western culture: "Dear young people, many and enticing are the voices that call out to you from all sides; many of these voices speak to you of a joy that can be had with money, with success, with power. Mostly they propose a joy that comes with the superficial and fleeting pleasure of the senses."

The experience of seeing the only pope most of the young people in the crowd have known was overwhelming emotionally for many.

"To see JPII in person is what I've been waiting for most of my life," said 17-year-old Alexis Adderley of Nassau, Bahamas, who had not been born when the pope was elected in 1978.

As the glass-enclosed popemobile approached, the crowd surged, many climbing on the shoulders of friends for a better look, and the diminutive Marie Muniandi, a teen-ager from Malaysia, feared she wouldn't be able to see a thing.

Muniandi and her newfound friend, Caroline Tay of Singapore, grabbed a steel trash can, upended it and climbed on top. They screamed and waved as the pope passed by, then turned to each other, embraced and sobbed. "That was so cool," was all Muniandi could manage as she wiped away tears.

World Youth Day, begun by Pope John Paul in 1985, is held about every two years. The last drew about 2 million to Rome in 2000, when the Roman Catholic Church was celebrating its 2,000th anniversary.

About 200,000 registered for this year's conference, although organizers estimated the crowd at yesterday's papal welcoming at 375,000 to 400,000. Church officials acknowledged that the numbers for this World Youth Day are probably lower because of fears of traveling after the Sept. 11 attacks as well as because of the U.S. church sex scandal.

But a group of young Catholics from Holy Rosary parish in East Baltimore proclaimed their loyalties, holding a large banner aloft: "We are the Catholic Church and proud of it."

"I'm proud to be Polish," said Michal Kraseo, 16, who held one end. "I'm proud to be Catholic."

The large international gathering had a feel that was part festival and part religious revival. With each group flying the flag of its country, the multitude became a sea of fluttering color. As they waited for the pope, youths strolled around, exchanging buttons and other gifts with peers who may have been Catholic like them but spoke a different language.

"It's like a religious Woodstock. Like the HFStival," said Anita Zarska, 16, of Parkville, who was with the Holy Rosary group. "But not with the drugs and all that. Everybody's happy. There's not one sad person here."

After the welcoming ceremony, Pope John Paul returned by helicopter to the retreat where he has been staying since arriving in Canada on Tuesday. The youths planned to continue tonight, carrying a large wooden cross in a procession through the streets of Toronto. The pope will next appear tomorrow night at a prayer vigil and will conclude his visit Sunday with a Mass before continuing to Guatemala and Mexico.

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