BY CHRISTINA WHITE AND DONNA NICHOLSON IN TORONTO
THE CITY of Toronto this week opened its doors to welcome young people from around the globe for the 17th World Youth Day.
Pope John Paul II, who travelled to the city on Tuesday, said Toronto would become "the world capital of youth, who are the future and the hope of the church and humanity".
He described young people as the "salt of the earth and the light of the world". The tragic events of September 11 and the conflict in the Holy Land had thrown a dark shadow upon the world, but young people were ready to respond to Christ he said.
"Here we are," the Pope said, "without fear and inspired by Your words, we will cast out the net of the Gospel."
The Holy Father thanked the thousands of Canadians who are providing lodging for the pilgrims and those who have worked to prepare the World Youth Day events. He also said he was thinking of the many young people who were unable to attend. He said they would be united in prayer.
Since the beginning of his pontificate in 1978. the Pope has made World Youth Day (WYD) a priority , describing young people as the future of the world and the hope of the Church. His determination to attend this year's event, despite his failing health, is an indication of how important the event is to him.
Hundreds of thousands of young people flocked to the Canadian city to join him. An estimated 200,000 visitors from more than 100 countries were expected in Toronto.
As well as commissioning a commemorative sculpture for the event, the city has transformed an ex-army base into the venue for the main papal Masses. Downsview Park in the north of the city was a former military airport but has now become the largest urban park in the entire country. It will host the Vigil and Mass with the Holy Father on Saturday.
The Church and the city have gone all out to incorporate the themes of this year's event into every aspect of the celebrations and many of the young pilgrims have volunteered to help with local charity projects.
The WYD logo — a yellow world surrounded by a cross and a maple leaf— appears all over the city on signs, bill
boards and the special bags which have been given to pilgrims, containing maps and information about Toronto, a candle, a set of rosary beads and a cross.
Pilgrims from dioceses all over England and Wales, led by Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor. arrived last week to stay in parishes around and outside the city.
The event was officially opened on Tuesday at a Mass celebrated by Cardinal Aloysius Ambrozic of Toronto. Wednesday, Thursday and Friday afternoons were set aside to allow pilgrims to take a moment of personal prayer beside the WYD cross.
The cross, which arrived in Canada last year, has travelled around the 72 dioceses of Canada. In the far north of the country it travelled by skidoo and sled. It was also taken to New York as a symbol of hope in the aftermath of September 11.
A Church spokesman said the "simplicity" of the cross had come to symbolise what WYD stands for.
"Despite great distances and the barriers of language and culture, young adults share a treasure with many others around the world."
He continued: "Most of all, WYD shows participants that our Church is young and young adults have their place in it."
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