TORONTO, Jul 24, 02 ( - With Pope John Paul II withdrawing to remote Strawberry Island for two days of rest after his arrival in Canada on Tuesday, tens of thousands of young people gathered in the Exhibition Place fairgrounds, on the evening of the same day. It was there, in the heart
of the Canadian city, that the 17th World Youth Day was officially opened with a Mass celebrated by
Cardinal Aloysius Ambrozic, archbishop of Toronto.

Young people had started to arrive by groups in Toronto early that morning. Most had just spent
several days in Canadian parishes, across the country, getting to know their North American hosts.

Back at Exhibition Place, hundreds of flags representing the many countries-- with a majority being
Canadian, American, Mexican, French, and Italian flags-- floated above the thousands of enthusiastic
young people.

"I do not see anything but the flags of every country represented under the sun," said Cardinal
Ambrozic to applause and cries of joy. At the beginning of the ceremony, 5 pm local time, the sun still
beat down strongly and pilgrims' head scarfs were required. Because of this heat-- close to 95
degrees Fahrenheit-- the few fountains of Toronto had been taken by storm by the young people in the
course of the day.

In his homily, Cardinal Ambrozic invited the young people to develop a strong faith and to follow in
Christ's footsteps. "You are called to preserve the youth of the Church!" he declared. At the end of
the Mass, the World Youth Day cross-- present at every World Youth Day since 1987-- was carried
in procession by young people of various countries to the altar, which sat on an immense podium that
is almost one hundred yards wide.

The cross thus finished a long tour in which it has been carried throughout all Canada since Easter
2001-- when it was officially given by the young people of Rome, where the preceding WYD had
been held-- in preparation for the following World Youth Day. It traveled more than 26,000 miles
(42,000 kilometers), by plane, by boat, by car, and even by tractor.

"It is a beautiful success!", said Father Thomas Rosica, national director of the Canadian World Youth
Day, who stopped for a few moments in his constant round trips between the event's headquarters
and Exhibition Place, solving the many small logistical problems.

"It is incredible to see the enthusiasm of these young people as it is communicated so quickly", added
one of his colleagues, Federico, a 26-year-old Italian. "The majority of regional and national television
stations are reporting on this event at length, in a more or less positive way," he said. As a whole,
however, the daily newspapers on Wednesday expressed their surprise at the passion caused by
World Youth Day, in Toronto and elsewhere in the country.

However, interest in this gathering of young Catholics still remains modest. Apart from the area
around Exhibition Place, the remainder of the city of Toronto seems to continue to live at its normal
rhythm. As opposed to the World Youth Days of Rome or Paris, the enthusiasm of the young people
remains confined to this district and other specific places in the city.

In the course of each day, all of the pilgrims find themselves in church buildings or the parks for the
various suggested activities, such as the traditional catecheses led by more than 500 bishops from
around the whole world, in the 129 Catholic churches of Toronto.

Meanwhile, WYD organizers have said they expect the number of pilgrims to swell from the current
250,000 to more than 500,000 for the final Mass with the Pope on Sunday. Following the success of
the first day of the World Youth Day, the organizers are optimistic regarding the number of
participants for the last two days, when the Pope is present.

"We could reach 500,000 people for the vigil on Saturday evening and perhaps 750,000 on Sunday,"
one source told Catholic World News. Several days before the beginning of WYD, an announcement
had been made, implying that only about 200,000 young people would take part in the event. Even if
this figure is indeed that of the number of registrations officially sent before July 11, the final day for
registration, it is not rare to see stands, in the area of Exhibition Place, or even on billboards at the
entrances of stores, advertising passes for sale.