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Throngs gather to listen to pope

Pope John Paul II called on a vast, ebullient crowd gathered here Thursday for World Youth Day to choose good over evil, seek justice, maintain their idealism and work for peace in a world broken by terrorism and violence.

"With your gaze set firmly" on Jesus, John Paul said, a hush falling over the assemblage, "you will discover the path of forgiveness and reconciliation in a world often laid waste by violence and terror. Last year, we saw with dramatic clarity the tragic face of human malice. We saw what happens when hatred, sin and death take command."

The pope, who suffers from arthritis and an ailment that shows the symptoms of Parkinson's disease, appeared reinvigorated by the energy of this international gathering of young Roman Catholics celebrating their faith. Festival organizers estimated that about 350,000 people were present to hear the pontiff's words Thursday at the opening of the church's 17th World Youth Day festivities.

In recent public Masses, the pope, 82, has appeared frail. He has slurred his words heavily and been unable to finish speeches. But this week, he has appeared to many Vatican watchers to be less encumbered by infirmity.

The pope held up well during the two-hour appearance, on several occasions waving his fist for emphasis, but just before leaving he looked to the crowd and said, "and the last day, the last World Youth Day was in Krakow." The event has never been held in that Polish city.

"I think it was just a slip," said papal spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls. He said the pope may have been addressing his fellow Poles because there were many of them in the crowd.

The pope did not mention the clergy sex abuse scandal rocking his church that has been blamed in part for attendance below expectations. On Tuesday afternoon, when the pope arrived in Canada, he walked down the stairs of his jet, waving aside instructions from Vatican staffers that he should use the type of mechanical platform that has lowered him to the tarmac on other trips. People in Canada watched in awe.

He appeared in Toronto after two days of rest at a nearby island resort. He is scheduled to speak at a vigil Saturday night and celebrate Mass before an estimated 1-million people on Sunday before leaving for Guatemala and Mexico.

Thursday's ceremony was the first time this week that the crowds who have traveled from more than 170 countries stood on the same ground as the pope.

Early Thursday, before the sun rose, pilgrims began streaming to the stage where the pope was scheduled to speak. About 4 p.m., his helicopter appeared overhead and countless heads turned toward it as it landed.

Pilgrims broke into full sprints as they spotted the popemobile, the pontiff's special vehicle for public occasions, moving along a parade route. People raced, rushing to get as close as possible to the vehicle and the man inside.

People cheered, shouted and cried. Nuns in blue, black and brown clutched their hands. Priests and monks in robes flowed through the crowd, as did teenagers wrapped in flags, carrying banners and rosaries.

Some pilgrims later were content to have gotten a mere glimpse of the pope.

"I can't express in words," said Adrian Fernandez, 15, of Brampton, Ontario. "You see all the people here just to see one man."

Camillia Kratochvil, 18, of Amarillo, Texas, stood so close to the popemobile that she cried. "I could see his face," she said. "I couldn't see his hands. I could see his face. I felt peace, a total peace, something I never experienced in my entire life." Later, she and friends stood in a circle and prayed, tears running down their faces in the hot sun and cool wind.

Sister Margaret Jackson, a Carmelite nun from Fall River, Mass., stood and smiled. "We will get vocations in the priesthood and religious life out of this," Jackson said. "People feel faith, just to be in his presence."

_ Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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