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Thousands of Catholic Youth Welcome Pope in Switzerland - 2004-06-05


Thousands of Roman Catholic youngsters from all over Switzerland gathered in the country's capital, Bern, to welcome Pope John Paul II, who accepted their invitation to meet with them. The pope attended a large and enthusiastic rally at a Bern stadium.

Pope John Paul II received a rapturous welcome from thousands of young people as he was wheeled into the stadium, escorted by his Swiss Vatican guards.

Three young people, who represented the German, French and Italian parts of Switzerland, sought counsel from the pope. They spoke of their anxieties about the world, and asked him what they must do to help create a just society.

In a lengthy speech often punctuated with applause, he told his young audience to place hope in the Church and the teachings of Jesus Christ.

The pope looked frail, and often spoke with difficulty. But his audience cheered him on, as he stumbled for words. The pope recalled his own youth in Poland, recounting how as a young man, he worked, studied, engaged in sports and theater, and was ambitious. And, then the war came and destroyed his country. He said he looked for a meaning to his life, and found it in the Church.

While the rally proceeded inside the stadium, elsewhere in the city, several hundred young people from a group called the "Antipapist Alliance" protested the pope's visit. They criticized what they called his "fundamentalist views on AIDS and homosexuality."

The pope's 32-hour visit to Switzerland, is his first foreign trip in nine months, and the 103rd pilgrimage of his 25-year papacy. Pope John Paul holds an open-air mass for thousands of worshippers Sunday morning before returning to Rome.

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