Pope's arrival in Toronto first posted 24 July 2002

 TORONTO - first posted 24 July 2002 - 500 words

Pope John Paul II moved painfully slowly, as he walked down the steps from the plane at Pearson airport yesterday - his face contorted with exertion.

But the jubilant crowd of waiting dignitaries and young people were surprised at the strength shown by the 82-year-old pontiff.

They had been warned that he would leave the plane on a lift, and because of his poor health might only be able to read the first lines of his speech.

Although his voice was quiet and breathless, he managed to read his whole address. (See text on ICN).

Speaking in English and French, the Pope gave an effusive thanks to the country and the city for playing host to thousands of young people from all over the world, gathered for the World Youth Day events.

Praising Canada, he said: "Canadians are heirs to an extraordinarily rich humanism, enriched even more by the blend of many different cultural elements."

During his welcoming speech, Prime Minister Jean Chrétien said: "We have in your Holiness a truly inspiring example of personal commitment.....

"The very fact that Your Holiness has made the trip here, bears witness to your tenacity and your courage in pursuing the spiritual objectives that are at the heart of your pontificate. Through your travels, your initiatives of reconciliation, and your messages of hope, you have inspired us to continue our efforts to build a better world. Where all can live in peace, and practise their faiths, free from fear. And I know that the thousands of young people who have come to hear your words, will leave galvanized to meet the challenges of the future."

Afterwards, more than 90 people came up to meet the Pope, in an aircraft hanger which had been decorated with sunflowers, philodendron leaves, ginger, roses, snowball hydrangeas and viburnum.

Schoolteacher Roxanne Dillon, 34, told the Toronto Globe and Mail: "He seemed so alive when I looked into his eyes. He represents such passion because he's suffering so much and yet he continues."

Ten year-old Georgia Rae Giddings, 10, got caught in a media frenzy after the Pope embraced her and she burst into tears. For the next hour, she recalled the moment over and over on live television from the centre of crowds of journalists.

"When I stood in front of the Pope, I just got dizzier and dizzier," she said.

In downtown Toronto, thousands of young people packed Exhibition Place to watch the Pope's arrival on a video screen. An estimated 200,000 young people from all over the world are now in the city for the week's events.

All the activity took a toll on the Pope, who looked as though he was in pain, often rubbing his face with his hand, or resting his forehead in his palm.

After an hour, the Pope left for the flight to the retreat on Simcoe Island, where he is staying for the duration of this visit.

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