VATICAN CITY, MAY 7, 2001 (VIS) - Monday afternoon the Holy Father presided over a meeting with more than 2,000 youth, who filled the Greek-Melkite Cathedral of Damascus and also followed the event from outside on a large screen. 
Participating in the event were the patriarchs and Catholic bishops of Syria, representatives from all of the Catholic rites (Armenian, Chaldean, Greek, Latin, Maronite, and Syrian), and the cardinals and bishops in the papal entourage. Also present were representatives from the Orthodox Churches of Syria. 
After the greeting of His Beatitude Gregoire III Laham, Greek-Melkite Catholic patriarch, litanies were recited and various youth spoke. Following this the Holy Father addressed the young people. 
"Although you belong to a variety of Christian confessions," the Pope said, "all of you wish to listen to the voice of the one Lord and to journey together towards Him. May your presence here be a sign of your commitment to work together, with Christ's grace, in promoting full visible unity between all Christians!" 
John Paul II told the youth that notwithstanding the questions and uncertainties of the present day, "Christ is calling you and awakening in you a desire to make your life something magnificent and beautiful, a determination to pursue high ideals, a refusal to be satisfied with mediocrity, and the courage to make commitments, with patience and perseverance." 
"In order to be able to respond to this call," the Pope continued, "strive constantly to grow in closeness to the Lord of life," through prayer, the reading of the Gospel, participation at Mass and the sacrament of Reconciliation. The Holy Father affirmed that "you cannot be a Christian if you reject the Church founded on Jesus Christ; you cannot be called believers unless you put your faith into practice." 
John Paul II exhorted the youth: "Don't be afraid to take time to reflect with older people, in order to consider seriously the choices you have to make, choices which involve listening to Jesus Christ as He invites you to follow Him along the demanding path of a courageous witness to values worth living for and worth giving your lives for: values such as truth, faith, human dignity, unity, peace and love." 
"I invite you today," the Pope said, "to proclaim Jesus Christ with courage and fidelity, above all to the young people of your generation. ... In seeing the way you live, your contemporaries ought to wonder what is your inspiration and the source of your joy." 
The Pope affirmed that "the future of Christianity in your country depends on better relations and closer cooperation between the Churches and Ecclesial Communities present here. ... Strengthen the things that unite you. ... Your country is marked by fellowship between all parts of society." 
At the end of his discourse, John Paul II asked the youth to witness to "'the Gospel of charity'" and to "build 'the civilization of love'! I say this with great hope and immense confidence." 
Following this the Pope passed through the square outside of the cathedral in his "popemobile," greeting the youth, and then went to the apostolic nunciature where he spent the night.