ROME (CNS): Joining 2 million young people on the outskirts of Rome, Pope John Paul II closed a week of World Youth Day festivities with a call to change the world by embracing the Gospel.
Buoyed by an enthusiastic crowd that was far bigger than expected, the 80 year-old pontiff joked, laughed, shed a few tears and even sang an impromptu prayer as he presided over a celebratory vigil last Saturday and the concluding Mass on August 20.
The young people suffered through heat that at times nudged 40 degrees Celsius but, like the Pope, seemed to enjoy every minute.
The two events on a giant tract of university hillside marked the culmination of Holy Year 2000’s biggest and longest encounter. Earlier in the week, young people from 160 nations made pilgrimages through the Holy Door of St Peter’s Basilica, confessed their sins in the dust of an ancient Roman racetrack, attended religious talks by dozens of bishops, and marched in a Way of the Cross down the streets of the Eternal City.
In between, the heat-baked throngs cooled off in Rome’s fountains or under the spray of Vatican fire hoses.