Pontiff arrives in Canada to join young pilgrims

Wednesday, July 24, 2002

TORONTO -- With the world watching, a frail but determined Pope John Paul II walked down the steps of his plane Tuesday instead of using a lift after arriving in Canada to join thousands of young Catholic pilgrims for World Youth Day.

Clutching a rail and helped by an aide, the 82-year-old pope inched his way down the 27 steps to the tarmac, drawing cheers from onlookers, after a stiff wind blew off his skull cap.

"The very fact that Your Holiness has made the trip here bears witness to your tenacity and your courage in pursuing the spiritual objectives that are at the heart of your pontificate," Prime Minister Jean Chretien said in welcoming the pope for the church's World Youth Day.

Some aides have expressed concern that the 11-day trip, which will continue to Guatemala and Mexico, may be too challenging for a man suffering from the ravaging symptoms of Parkinson's disease and hip and knee ailments.

John Paul boarded the Alitalia plane in Rome using a lift, one of several accommodations the Vatican has made because of his frail condition.

"I wish I was a fly on the wall in that plane. He must have told them he was going to walk down those stairs. That was astounding," said Archbishop Anthony Meagher of Kingston, Ontario.

In recent months, the Vatican has repeatedly rejected suggestions that the pope is considering stepping down because of his ailments. On the flight from Rome, the pope's spokesman, Joaquin Navarro-Valls, said the pope wanted to accept an invitation to the Philippines in January.

Chretien and other Canadian and church dignitaries greeted the pope outside the plane, and he climbed a moving platform to ride to a welcoming ceremony in a hangar a few hundred yards away.

Speaking in English and French in this officially bilingual country, John Paul thanked Toronto for welcoming the almost 200,000 pilgrims registered for World Youth Day, calling the event a crucial way to preserve hope in the young.

"Too many lives begin and end without joy, without hope," he said. "Young people are coming together to commit themselves, in the strength of their faith in Jesus Christ, to the great cause of peace and human solidarity."

The pope was greeted by a line of people, including 21-year-old Timothy Pippy of Mississauga, Ontario, disabled because of a crippling syndrome but still able to kiss the pontiff's ring.

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