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Spotlight Report

The young hail pope at Toronto ceremony

By Michael Paulson, Globe Staff, 7/26/2002

TORONTO - Pope John Paul II, calling himself ''the aged pope, full of years but still young at heart,'' yesterday urged hundreds of thousands of young adults to reject the joy that comes from ''the superficial and fleeting pleasure of the senses'' and instead to struggle for the joy that comes through faith.

A crowd estimated by organizers at 375,000 to 400,000 cheered and screamed as John Paul II arrived by popemobile at Exhibition Place, a 192-acre park and convention center on the shores of Lake Ontario.

The frail 82-year-old pontiff appeared in person for the first time before the young people who have arrived from 169 countries to celebrate the Catholic Church's 17th World Youth Day.

Many of the young adults not only waved or wore the flags of their countries, but were also draped in flags and insignia they had collected from new friends from around the globe.

In past years, when he was healthier, the pope at times danced at such events, but yesterday, his movements restricted by Parkinson's disease and severe arthritis, he remained in his chair throughout the two-hour welcoming ceremony. The pope responded to cheers with smiles and waves, at one point banging his hand on the arm of his chair to the rhythm of the applause.

''He's old, but he's young in spirit, and young in faith,'' said Federico Masutti, 25, a seminarian from Buenos Aires. ''He has a physical condition, and it's only that. He's not old to me.''

Some of the young people ignored, or could not understand, the pope's message - Parkinson's has reduced his ability to clearly articulate his words. As he decried materialism, hundreds of young people were lined up to buy papal souvenirs, food, or to send e-mail from an Internet cafe at the exhibition hall alongside the plaza where the pope spoke.

And some of his impromptu remarks were difficult to understand - at one point he declared that ''the last day, the last World Youth Day, was in Krakow,'' when in fact there has never been a World Youth Day there.

The pope's spokesman said the remark was a slip; observers speculated that the pope may have been thinking about a World Youth Day in Poland in 1991 or about his planned trip to his homeland next month.

Throngs of young adults danced, sang, and watched raptly as the pope's face was shown on giant television screens, cheered as a 13-foot high World Youth Day cross was carried to the stage, and applauded whenever the pope spoke with particular emphasis, or paused, or gave the crowd a blessing or greeting. They crowded around his glass-topped vehicle as it snaked through the audience, and reached up to the stage hoping for a touch or a prayer.

''Sometimes in these modern times, you feel alone, when so many people are atheists or agnostic,'' said Siobhan Mooney, 19, of Dublin, who had also attended the World Youth Day in Rome. ''This is like a big Christian rock concert. It gives you a bit of strength to carry with you when you're feeling down.''

Throughout his papacy, and particularly since the fall of the Soviet Union. John Paul II has railed against the materialism and individualism of the West. Yesterday, in remarks keyed off the Beatitudes, the blessings said by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount and the Sermon on the Plain, the pope urged the young adults to avoid those Western qualities.

''Young people of Canada, of America, and of every part of the world, by looking at Jesus you will learn what it means to be poor in spirit, meek and merciful; what it means to seek justice, to be pure in heart, to be peacemakers,'' he said.

The pope listed what he sees as the temptations of society.

''Many and enticing are the voices that call out from all sides: Many of these voices speak to you of a joy that can be had with money, with success, with power,'' the pope said. ''Mostly they propose a joy that comes with the superficial and fleeting pleasure of the senses.''

Many embraced his message.

''We want the things that last for eternity,'' said Eric Futterer, 27, of Joliet, Ill. ''If we put material things before love, that's when we get in trouble.''

The Vatican had briefly considered, but decided against, a visit to ground zero in New York during the pope's 11-day trip to the Americas, which next week will take him to Guatemala and Mexico. But in his remarks yesterday, the pope sought to draw some moral lessons from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

''Last year we saw with dramatic clarity the tragic face of human malice. We saw what happens when hatred, sin and death take command,'' he said. ''But today, Jesus's voice resounds in the midst of our gathering. His is a voice of life, of hope, of forgiveness; a voice of justice and of peace. Let us listen to this voice.''

Some young people were clearly sympathetic.

They signed banners proclaiming peace, and two Parisian pilgrims, David Laurent, 30, and Jean Claude Nguyen, 20, held Israeli and Palestinian flags in what they said was a plea for peace in the Middle East.

The pope did not mention the clergy sexual abuse crisis challenging the Catholic Church in the United States and in Canada. Instead, he said, ''To all of you I say: may your contacts with your pastors help you to discover and appreciate more and more the beauty of the church.''

Young people interviewed here said they are aware of the scandal, but it has not affected their faith.

''If we didn't have tough times, we wouldn't get stronger,'' said Daniel M. Wilson, 22, of Mapleville, Ill.

This World Youth Day has thus far attracted fewer participants than projected and fewer than convened for previous World Youth Days. Yesterday, organizers cut the price for tickets to the weekend vigil and Mass by two-thirds in an effort to boost attendance. Two years ago 2 million people participated in World Youth Day in Rome, and in 1995 4.5 million people participated in World Youth Day in Manila. The Canadian organizers had hoped to attract 750,000 this year, but have attributed lower attendance to the cost of travel, fear of terrorism, and the clergy sex abuse scandal.

The pope plans to spend today resting on Strawberry Island, while the young adults watch a Way of the Cross in the streets, recalling the events of Jesus's suffering and death.

Michael Paulson can be reached by e-mail at mpaulson@globe.com.

This story ran on page A1 of the Boston Globe on 7/26/2002.
© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.


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