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Pope greeted by hundreds of thousands of faithful at World Youth Day vigil
By Tom Cohen, Associated Press, 07/27/02
TORONTO -- Facing hundreds of thousands of Catholic faithful holding candles in the dusk, Pope John Paul II urged young pilgrims Saturday to become builders of a new civilization of freedom, peace and love.
The crowd of more than 500,000 at the World Youth Day vigil cheered him wildy, waving flags from every corner of the world and chanting his name in open affection.
Speaking in French and English from beneath a 160-foot cross, the 82-year-old pontiff said the new millennium opened with two contrasting scenarios: the sight of pilgrims in Rome for the Holy Year, and the "terrible terrorist attack on New York, an image that is sort of an icon of a world in which hostility and hatred seem to prevail."
"The question that arises is dramatic: On what foundation must we build the new historical era that is emerging from the great transformations of the 20th century?" the pontiff asked.
His voice strong despite symptoms of Parkinson's disease and other health problems, John Paul asked whether it was enough to rely on the technological revolution without referring to an individual's spiritual dimension.
The answer: "Christ alone is the cornerstone on which it is possible to build one's existence."
"The 20th century often tried to do without that cornerstone and attempted to build the city of man without reference to Him. It ended by actually building that city against man," John Paul said.
He urged young people to be the builders of a "civilization of love" and learn "to build brick by brick, the city of God within the city of man."
John Paul waved at the leaping, shouting young people along the route of his "popemobile" as it made its way to a giant stage adorned with the cross, which was visible for miles. Among those in the crowd was Prime Minister Jean Chretien, wearing a suit and tie despite temperatures that reached the high 80s.
For one of the few times so far on the trip that began Tuesday, John Paul used a cart pushed by aides to cross the stage, his normal practice in recent months. In Canada, he had made a point of walking with a cane, usually with an aide holding his arm.
Singing songs and carrying what they needed to spend the night outdoors, the crowd jammed streets in north Toronto to get to the concrete expanse at Downsview Park as big as 180 soccer fields.
As a blazing sun began its late afternoon descent, a sea of humans spread almost as far as the eye could see, some with cardboard boxes and other protection in case of predicted overnight storms.
John Paul met briefly in separate audiences with Chretien and other Canadian leaders before the flight to the park.
"Go back in good health and pray for no rain tonight," Marilyn Lastman, wife of Mayor Mel Lastman, told the pope.
The rain held off through the pope's speech.
A Mass on Sunday in the park will conclude nearly a week of activities marking World Youth Day, an event inaugurated by John Paul in 1985. More than 200,000 young Catholics from 170 nations registered this year, a decline from previous years. Organizers expect up to 1 million people at Sunday's Mass.
There was no lack of enthusiasm among the multitudes who walked in midday heat Saturday, huddling under overpasses and in the shade of trucks to avoid the sun. Some welcomed water sprayed on them by people on highway bridges, and paramedics on golf carts cruised alongside to assist those overcome by the high humidity and 86-degree temperature.
Dr. Katherine Rouleau, head of a field hospital at the vigil site, said a steady stream of people requiring a cool place to rest, some water or perhaps an intravenous drip were coming there or to the network of 16 field clinics and first-aid stations.
"The weather is one thing, but on top of that, people are getting excited. They don't think about drinking the water they need," she said. Young people are "very resilient, but when they crash, it happens very suddenly."
Excitement was obvious in the faces of those waiting for the pope.
"You feel the world is coming all together for the same reason," said 14-year-old Annalynn David of Sacramento, Calif. "My heart is beating madly, and I'm sure it will beat even harder when I see the pope again."
Lisa Hieronynus, 27, of New York City said the huge numbers bolstered the faith of those gathering here as the Roman Catholic church tries to emerge from the sex-abuse scandals in the United States.
"It's not every day that you get to experience this kind of solidarity," she said. "A lot of people were shaken and a lot people woke up. This sort of event will help the pope in the long run."
While most of the pilgrims were preparing to sleep in the open, many brought tents and others built improvised shelters of tarpaulins, plastic barricades and cardboard boxes.
In one makeshift shantytown, Los Angeles youth minister Erick Rubalcava, 28, had a box with a mini-television and battery-powered fan.
"I'm all set," he said. "It's kind of skid row but it's kind of luxurious."
In downtown Toronto on Friday night, pilgrims by the tens of thousands watched a somber re-enactment of the crucifixion as the pope watched on television from his Strawberry Island retreat north of the city, where he has rested since arriving.
On Monday, the pope proceeds to Guatemala, then to Mexico to complete his 11-day trip, the 97th of his nearly quarter-century papacy. While aides had expressed concern that the trip would be too much for his declining health, the pope has surprised all by looking stronger and speaking more clearly than in recent months.