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Beaming Pope wows pilgrims Pontiff 'full of years but still young at heart' welcomed by 375,000 throng

Pontiff 'full of years but still young at heart' welcomed by 375,000 throng

RELIGION AND ETHICS REPORTER

A beaming, blissful John Paul II basked in the cheers of hundreds of thousands of his church's young people yesterday, at times moved beyond words by the tumultuous welcome World Youth Day delegates gave him at Toronto's Exhibition Place.

His voice strong and clear, his face animated with happiness, the Pope allowed the ecstatic crowd to interrupt his address repeatedly, waving at them and beating his hand on the arm of his chair in time to their chants of, "John Paul II, we love you."

At one point, he broke into unscripted Polish, telling them: "Long live the Pope; long live the youth" -- a rhymed couplet in his native language.

At another point, the 82-year-old leader of the world's billion Roman Catholics elicited a roar of acclaim when he referred to himself in French as an "aged Pope, full of years but still young at heart."

The biggest cheer of all came as he said, "The Pope, who loves you dearly . . ." He got no further; the crowd drowned him out, and it was several minutes before he began speaking again.

His final words before leaving the stage were, "Au revoir! See you again!"

World Youth Day organizers said 375,000 to 400,000 people attended the welcoming ceremony, citing the crew of a Toronto radio station helicopter.

There are 200,000 young people registered for World Youth Day.

Journalists from the Vatican press corps, accustomed to reporting on the Pope's frailty, slurred words and the frozen mask of his face resulting from Parkinson's disease, were astonished by his appearance yesterday.

At a media briefing, Dr. Joaquin Navarro-Valls, the Vatican spokesman, was asked if the Pope was on new medication. Dr. Navarro-Valls said not as far as he knew.

As recently as two weeks ago, the Pope was reported to be exhausted and unable to complete a mass, touching off media speculation that his health would not permit him to make the trip to Toronto.

Yet, since his arrival on Tuesday, he has demonstrated remarkable vigour, walking down the ramp from his airplane instead of being lowered mechanically to the ground, thoroughly enjoying himself on an island in Ontario's cottage country -- and now yesterday's service.

Perhaps the likeliest explanation lies with the words Toronto's Cardinal Aloysius Ambrozic quoted the Pope as saying to him several months ago, "When one is with the young, one becomes young."

A member of the papal entourage said the people around him know how to make him look after himself.

The Pope's address was both a carefully crafted appeal to the psyches of the young and their feelings of aloneness and frequent sadness, as well as a stirring command to them to build a better world by following the teachings of Jesus.

He told them he had commended them one by one in his prayers. He said: "[Jesus] has always known you and he loves each one of you personally." He said: "I have felt the deep longing that beats within your hearts: You want to be happy . . . People are made for happiness. Rightly, then, you thirst for happiness."

Then he told them: "Dear friends, the aged Pope, full of years but still young at heart, answers your youthful desire for happiness with words that are not his own. They are words that rang out 2,000 years ago. Words that we hear again tonight: 'Blessed are they . . .' The key word in Jesus's teaching is a proclamation of joy: 'Blessed are they . . .' " His reference was to what Christians know as Jesus's Sermon on the Mount or the Beatitudes, a declaration of praise for human virtues.

John Paul likened the shore of Lake Ontario, a few hundred metres from where he spoke, to the shore of the Sea of Galilee (he used the Romans' name for it, the Lake of Tiberias) where Jesus delivered the sermon. He said some of Jesus's disciples were probably as young as the people at World Youth Day.

He took them through the eight Beatitudes, the virtues Jesus blessed -- the meek, the merciful, the peacemakers and so on.

Texts of the Pope's speeches indicate what words he intends to stress, as might be expected of someone who studied drama and wrote plays. Here is how John Paul spoke of Jesus and the Sermon on the Mount:

"Jesus did not limit himself to to proclaiming the Beatitudes, He lived them . . . the most gentle among the meek, the person with the purest and most most merciful heart is none other than Jesus. The Beatitudes are nothing more than the description of a face, His face! . . . The Beatitudes describe what a Christian should be."

Referring to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the Pope said: "Last year we saw with dramatic clarity the tragic face of human malice. We saw what happens when hatred, sin and death take command. 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 peace. Let us listen to this voice."

He also told his young audience: "May your contacts with your pastors help you to discover and appreciate more and more the beauty of the church. . . ." There were 50,000 young Americans listening to the Pope; the U.S. Catholic Church has been scandalized by hundreds of reports of priests molesting young people.

Papal address

Excerpts from the text of Pope John Paul's prepared remarks, provided yesterday as he welcomed thousands of pilgrims to World Youth Day:

. . . I have been eagerly looking forward to this meeting, especially when day after day from all parts of the world I received in the Vatican good news about all the initiatives that have marked your journey here. And often, even without having met you, I commended you one by one in my prayers to the Lord. He has always known you, and He loves each one of you personally.
. . . Listening to the long list of countries from which you come, we have practically made a trip round the world. Behind each of you I have glimpsed the faces of all your fellow young people whom I have met in the course of my apostolic travels, and whom in a way you represent here. I have imagined you on a journey, walking in the shadow of the jubilee cross, on this great youth pilgrimage which, moving from continent to continent, is eager to hold the whole world in a close embrace of faith and hope.
. . . 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.

. . . Dear friends, the aged Pope, full of years but still young at heart, answers your youthful desire for happiness with words that are not his own. They are words that rang out 2,000 years ago. Words that we have heard again tonight: "Blessed are they . . ." The key word in Jesus's teaching is a proclamation of joy: "Blessed are they . . ."
. . . People are made for happiness. Rightly, then, you thirst for happiness. Christ has the answer to this desire of yours. But he asks you to trust Him. True joy is a victory, something which cannot be obtained without a long and difficult struggle. Christ holds the secret of this victory.
. . . 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. With your gaze set firmly on Him, you will discover the path of forgiveness and reconciliation in a world often laid waste by violence and terror. Last year we saw with dramatic clarity the tragic face of human malice. We saw what happens when hatred, sin and death take command. But today, Jesus's voice resounds in the midst of our gathering. His is a voice of hope, of forgiveness: a voice of justice and of peace. Let us listen to this voice!
. . . Young people listening to me, answer the Lord with strong and generous hearts! He is counting on you. Never forget: Christ needs you to carry out his plan of salvation! Christ needs your youth and your generous enthusiasm to make his proclamation of joy resound in the new millennium. Answer His call by placing your lives at his service in your brothers and sisters! Trust Christ, because He trusts you. . . .

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