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Frail Pope Begins Trip to Canada, Mexico, Guatemala Tuesday - 2002-07-22

Pope John Paul II will leave Tuesday on an 11-day trip to Canada, Guatemala and Mexico - another major test to his stamina and frail health. But the idea of another meeting with young people in Canada has helped the 82-year-old pontiff gather new strength.

The first stop of the pope's 97th trip abroad will be Toronto, Canada, where he will celebrate World Youth Day. He will spend six days in Canada, half of them resting on an island on a lake, north of Toronto.

The intention is to allow the already frail 82-year-old pope to recover from the long airplane trip and difference in time zones.

The pope will join young people for a welcome ceremony Thursday afternoon, a prayer vigil Saturday evening, the closing mass on Sunday.

Several hundreds of thousands of young people are usually drawn to the pope's youth gatherings. But this time, organizers say just over 200,000 young people have registered to take part in the Toronto events.

Although organizers say they are confident the number will increase right up to the last minute, they cite several reasons for the lower turnout at this year's World Youth Day.

Monsignor Renato Boccardo, who coordinates papal trips, said the climate created by the terrorist attacks in the United States last September has influenced plans by young people to attend the event. He said families are justifiably afraid to allow their children to travel.

The pope himself said Sunday that the events of last September and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict "have thrown a dark shadow over the world."

There had been fears that Pope John Paul II would not be able to travel to the Toronto event because of his health. He did not appear well during his last foreign trip in May.

However, the pope has been resting at his summer residence in the hills outside Rome in preparation for his long foreign trip. And, despite suffering from Parkinson's disease and arthritis, he appears to have gathered new strength for his meeting with the youth.

After Canada, the Pope will travel next Monday to Guatemala and then to Mexico for canonization ceremonies. He will return to the Vatican August 2, to rest a little more before embarking on another foreign trip just two weeks later, this time to his native Poland.