Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of July 29, 2002
Pope's valiant steps chart WYD's Course
John Paul offers youth a spiritual direction
From WCR News Services
It was a stronger Pope John Paul than anyone expected who arrived in Canada July 23, walking slowly down the steps from his airplane and speaking in a relatively strong voice.
The frail pope looked ready to meet the Catholic youth of the world as he emerged from the Al Italia aircraft, wisps of his white hair blowing gently in the summer breeze.
Rather than being lowered to the tarmac by a lift, as had been expected by many including WYD organizers, the pope walked slowly down the ramp, shook hands with Chretien and his wife, Aline, and then mounted a special vehicle to be escorted by aides into a closed area for a brief ceremony.
The pope said World Youth Day would help young people find spiritual direction in a world full of social and ethical tensions.
"Too many lives begin and end without joy, without hope. That is one of the principal reasons for World Youth Day. Young people are coming together to commit themselves, in the strength of their faith in Jesus Christ, to the great cause of people and human solidarity," he said.
Welcoming the pontiff, Chretien said World Youth Day offered a "challenge to young people to fully live their faith, to fully engage in their societies and to believe they can make a difference by demonstrating their commitment in daily life."
The pope thanked Canadians for hosting this year's youth encounter. He reminded them that their country was built on religious values that are "essential to good living and to human happiness."
He said the core of Canada's heritage was the "spiritual and transcendent vision of life based on Christian revelation," which has helped the country develop as a free, democratic and caring society.
Those values must be preserved today, the pope said.
"In a world of great social and ethical strains, and confusion about the very purpose of life, Canadians have an incomparable treasure to contribute - on condition that they preserve what is deep and good and valid in their own heritage," he said.
Archbishop Anthony Meagher, the chair of World Youth Day committee of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, said he had tears in his eyes when he saw the pope descending from the plane without the help of a lift.
"I would have loved to be a fly on the wall in that airplane before they landed because he must have told them that he was going to walk down those stairs."
Pope John Paul is believed to be suffering from Parkinson's Disease and holds his head up only with much difficulty.
Immediately after the welcoming ceremony, the pope left by helicopter for an island retreat for several days of rest and meditation.
Father Thomas Rosica, the executive director of WYD 2002, said Church officials on Strawberry Island said the pope was very excited on his arrival. "The golf cart that met him was ready to take him to the residence but he said he wanted a tour of the island," Rosica said.
"He toured the island, prayed before the shrine, sat by the lake for a while and then asked to meet all the staff on the island - the priests and the young people that are there."