Pope tells young Catholics to reject sin

Friday, July 26, 2002

TORONTO -- Pope John Paul II urged young Catholic pilgrims Thursday to reject the "lure of sin" and told them that the Sept. 11 attacks showed the "tragic face of human malice."

The frail, 82-year-old pope spoke to tens of thousands of flag-waving young people gathered at a lakeside fairgrounds at the opening of the church's 17th World Youth Day festivities.

Despite concerns about whether he could withstand the 11-day trip that proceeds next week to Guatemala and Mexico, the pope spoke in a clear, strong voice and walked to his seat on stage, aided by a cane in his right hand and an aide holding his left arm.

John Paul described himself as the "aged pope, full of years but still young at heart," bringing them Christ's message to resist those who propose a "joy that comes with the superficial and fleeting pleasure of the senses" and based on money, success and power.

The pope held up well during the two-hour appearance -- on several occasions waving his fist for emphasis -- but just before leaving he looked to the crowd and said, "and the last day, the last World Youth Day was in Krakow." The event has never been held in that Polish city.

"I think it was just a slip," said papal spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls. He said the pope may have been addressing his fellow Poles because there were many of them in the crowd.

He did not mention the clergy sex abuse scandal rocking his church that has been blamed in part for attendance below expectations, with just over 200,000 people aged 16-to-35 registered to take part.

The pope did refer to the Sept. 11 attacks against the United States, saying, "Last year we saw with dramatic clarity the tragic face of human malice. We saw what happens when hatred, sin and death take command."

To believe in Christ, he said, "means rejecting the lure of sin no matter how attractive it may be."

Wearing sneakers and backpacks and waving their national flags, the more than 200,000 young pilgrims jumped in place to shout their welcome or ran along the route of John Paul's "popemobile" as it moved through the Exhibition Place fairgrounds on the Lake Ontario waterfront.

The pope stood for a few minutes when the vehicle entered the fairgrounds, then sat down again, all the while waving and smiling, as several security guards in suits and dark glasses walked alongside.

Marisa Solano-Sanchez, 17, of Brownstown, Mich., burst into tears as the pope went by, saying: "I'm just stunned. I'm just really excited."

The pontiff flew to Exhibition Place on the Lake Ontario waterfront by helicopter from the island retreat where he rested for two days before joining those he calls the future of the Roman Catholic church.

Every head in the crowd turned to watch the helicopter approach, with flags and banners of every color fluttering in the sunshine of a warm, clear afternoon.

"It's great to see all these Catholics here in one area," said Eugene Sohn, 19, from the St. Raphael congregation in Los Angeles. "When everybody comes together, regardless of language, sex, or race, we show our strength in numbers."

Jamie Oakland of Seattle, perched in a lawn chair in front of the stage, came out nine hours earlier for a good spot. "The guy is my hero," Oakland explained.

After arriving Tuesday, John Paul went to remote Strawberry Island to rest up for his time with the young people.

Following the welcoming party, the pope returns by helicopter to the island in Lake Simcoe, 50 miles to the north, until Saturday, when he goes to Toronto to visit the Youth Day participants at a nighttime vigil. He celebrates Mass with them on Sunday, then leaves for Guatemala on Monday.

Reporters are not allowed on or near the island, but 14 youngsters will join the pope for lunch on Friday. They come from Canada, the United States, Sudan, China, Jordan, India, Bosnia, Germany, Austria, Peru and Tahiti.

They will get an experience desired by all at World Youth Day. Linda Susilo, 24, an Indonesian-born Canadian, said, "I just want to see him."

Others had expectations that the pope will touch on specific issues such as the clergy sex abuse scandal rocking the Church.

"I'd like him to address some of the situations going on in America, to reiterate that it's OK to trust priests" said Leonard Kelley, a 26-year-old seminarian from St. Louis with an American flag wrapped around his shoulders.

Several young people have brought up the issue in meetings with bishops in the Toronto area this week. A group representing Canadian victims of clergy abuse sought a meeting with John Paul in Toronto, but organizers said they couldn't fit it in.

Organizers said approximately 205,000 people had registered for the event -- a quarter from the United States -- the smallest turnout since World Youth Day was launched in the mid-1980s. The Vatican has attributed the low figures in part on the sex scandal as well as travel difficulties after the Sept. 11 terror attacks on New York and the Pentagon.

Two hundred pilgrims have come from Cuba, helped by donations from Canada, the United States and Germany, organizers said.

Until hip and knee ailments started slowing him down in the 1990s and symptoms of Parkinson's disease set in, John Paul used to take long hikes in the Italian Alps, in Canada's Jasper Park during a tour of this country in 1984 and in the Rocky Mountains outside Denver during World Youth Day in 1993.

He has started using a lift to get on and off planes, but he walked down the steps of his Alitalia jet with help upon arriving Tuesday in Toronto. His determination surprised his aides as well as the crowd awaiting him.

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