The cheers, the flags and the tears of the faithful filled Toronto's Exhibition Place Thursday as Pope John Paul II arrived for his first public appearance for World Youth Day.
Though the rigors of Parkinson's disease have taken their toll on the 82-year-old leader of the world's one-billion Roman Catholics, the Pope was clearly energized by the overwhelming enthusiasm that greeted him as he arrived.
Chants of "JP II, we love you," rang out from every corner as an estimated 400,000 young people from 172 countries gathered in awe and inspiration to see their spiritual leader.
The sex scandals that have rocked the Church, particularly the American church, were left behind as the Pope took the stage to tell young people they must reject the "lure of sin" and the hatreds that led to the tragedies of September 11 in the United States. "Last year, we saw a dramatic clarity the tragic face of human malice," he said. "We saw what happens when hatred, sin and death take command."
But while that "face of human malice" was evident in the increased security surrounding the event, concerns stemming from both September 11 and the 1981 assassination attempt on the Pope's life, the main message from both the Pontiff and the faithful was one of celebration.
He called on youth to reject the superficial and fleeting joys of money, success and power, and instead take up the cause of peace and helping others.
The Pope, on an 11-day trip that will take him to Mexico and Guatemala, flew in to the event by helicopter from the island retreat north of Toronto where he is staying.
On Freiday, the Pope returns to Toronto for another event. He will conclude his visit here with an open-air mass on Sunday which is expected to draw one million people.