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Toronto: huge crowds greet beaming Pope first posted 26 July 2002

 TORONTO - first posted 26 July 2002 - 320 words

Pope John Paul was given a tumultuous welcome as he arrived at Exhibition Place in Toronto to meet World Youth Day pilgrims yesterday afternoon.

Writing in today's Globe and Mail, Michael Valpy reports: 'His voice strong and clear, his face animated with happiness, the Pope allowed the ecstatic crowd to interrupt his address repeatedly, waving at them and beating his hand on the arm of his chair in time to their chants of, "John Paul II, we love you."

At one point, the Pope broke into unscripted Polish, telling them: "Long live the Pope; long live the youth" - a rhymed couplet in his native language.

At another point, speaking in French, he said he was "an aged Pope, full of years but still young at heart."

The biggest cheer of all came as he said, "The Pope, who loves you dearly ..." He got no further; the crowd drowned him out, and it was several minutes before he began speaking again.

His final words before leaving the stage were, "Au revoir! See you again!"

Organisers say up 400,000 people attended the welcoming ceremony. About 200,000 young people have registered to attend the week's events.

Members of the Vatican press office said they were astonished by the Pope's fit appearance. So often in recent years they have reported on his frail condition. Only two weeks ago the Pope had been unable to finish celebrating Mass and there had been speculation that he might be forced to call off the Canada trip. But since his arrival on Tuesday, he has looked remarkably well.

At a media briefing, Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said he was not aware that the Pope was on any medication.

Michael Valpy writes: "Perhaps the likeliest explanation lies with the words Toronto's Cardinal Aloysius Ambrozic quoted the Pope as saying to him several months ago, "When one is with the young, one becomes young."