Toronto A pontiff who described himself as "full of years but still young at heart" urged more than 375,000 youths Thursday to "discover the path of forgiveness and reconciliation in a world often laid waste by violence and terror" in the aftermath of Sept. 11.
Ever determined, Pope John Paul II walked with a cane from his Mercedes-Benz popemobile to the stage of Exhibition Place, where tens of thousands of young people greeted him. Teenagers wrapped in flags and bandanas, priests wearing baseball caps and nuns in sunhats applauded wildly upon his arrival.
"John Paul II, we love you!" they shouted as the pontiff, in a rare gesture, tipped his skullcap.
Many young people burst into tears upon seeing the only pope they have ever known.
More than 200,000 young people came to see the pontiff during the first of two planned appearances. A week of prayer, meetings with bishops, social service projects and concerts will culminate in Mass with John Paul on Sunday.
At one point during his talk, the pope said that the last World Youth Day had been in Krakow. The event has never been held in Poland, and the slip was widely noticed given that his health is under constant scrutiny.
Rev. Joseph Koterski, philosophy professor at Fordham University, wondered whether the pope was referring to a huge annual youth festival that concludes near Krakow every year on Aug. 15.
Regardless, the pope's voice was stronger and steadier than it has often been lately in the presence of the young people who have been a focus of his papacy. While many milled around during his speech, playing ball or waiting in line for pizza, others were transfixed by every word.
Colleen Maher, 14, of Kansas City, Mo., said, "It's really exciting just to be in his presence. I'd been looking forward to being close to him."