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Follow Jesus Early, Pope Tells Youths

Religion: 'Do not wait until you are older' to take the holy path, he counsels in Toronto.


TORONTO — In a homily that was more motivational speech than sermon, Pope John Paul II challenged half a million young Catholics here Saturday to become "a new generation of builders [who] must learn to build, brick by brick, the city of God within the city of man."

The three-hour evening service--called a vigil in Catholic parlance--is the final warmup event for World Youth Day before today's climactic papal Mass, which organizers predict will draw 1 million people. John Paul established World Youth Day 15 years ago to bolster the younger generation's commitment to the church.

Speaking just after the sun set on a warm Canadian night, the pontiff built on the theme that he began last week at the opening ceremony: Jesus Christ is the cornerstone of a happy life and compassionate society.

"God is entrusting to you the task, at once difficult and uplifting, of working with him in the building of the civilization of love," said the 82-year-old pope from his large white-and-gold chair on a platform high above Downsview Park, an abandoned military base.

Hundreds of thousands were to spend Saturday night in sleeping bags and makeshift tents on the former base's runways and fields to be ready for the early morning Mass.

Once again, John Paul steered clear of mentioning the sexual abuse scandal that beset the Roman Catholic Church this year. Instead, the pontiff has used his three public appearances to encourage young Catholics to become "the salt of the earth ... the light of the world"--the theme for this year's World Youth Day--by following the countercultural example set by Jesus.

"Let the light of Christ shine in your lives," he said. "Do not wait until you are older in order to set out on the path of holiness. In the quest for justice, in the promotion of peace, in your commitment to brotherhood and solidarity, let no one surpass you."

With John Paul as the star attraction, millions of young Catholics usually make the pilgrimage to World Youth Day, which is held about every two years. But only slightly more than 200,000 participants have registered for the Toronto event, though the crowds have swelled considerably during the pope's public appearances. Organizers blame travelers' post-Sept. 11 concerns and the uncertainty of the pope's health for the downturn.

The surprising stamina that the ailing John Paul displayed earlier in the week continued late Saturday. His voice remained relatively strong as he spoke from prepared text in English, French, Spanish, Italian and Polish.

In a concession to the advances of Parkinson's disease and the pope's other maladies, aides wheeled him onto the stage on a small platform and he remained seated throughout the service.

The pope will fly to Guatemala on Monday for the second leg of his 11-day trip in the Americas.

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