MORE than 200,000 youngsters from some 70 countries around the world joined Pope John Paul II in Rome over Palm Sunday weekend for events marking UN-sponsored International Youth Year and the launching of Holy Week celebrations.
The young men and women were welcomed with open arms by the Pontiff. "You young people are called to share in that great and indispensable effort of all humanity which has as its purpose the removal of the spectre of war and the building of peace," the Pope said at his first encounter on Saturday with the youngsters in Rome's largest square by the Basilica of Si John Lateran.
Leading the exhuberant crowd in a special peace prayer, John Paul denounced "that crazy logic that leads to resources being removed front life and used instead for the purpose of death and the destruction of the planet".
The young people entertained John Paul with songs, dances and personal accounts of their experiences as Catholics. After the assembly at St John's they held all-night vigils in three Roman churches and at daybreak began a march that brought them to St Peter's Square for Palm Sunday Mass.
In the Vatican Square, John Paul blessed a sea of palms and olive branches as the crowd swelled to an estimated 300,000.
He reiterated his concern for the future of mankind in his homily at the Mass which commemorates Jesus' entry Into Jerusalem five days before Crucifixion.
"What will be the future of mankind in this electronic world of stupendous discoveries, splendid and at the same time threatening?" the Pope asked.
Protesting that people still starve despite all the technological progress, John Paul said, "in this world, in which some seem to completely dominate others there are millions of starving and among them defenceless children".
On Maundy Thursday John Paul will bless the oils used for Catholic Baptisms, Confirmations and Consecrations and in the afternoon wash the feet of 12 faithful at St John Lateran in a re-enaction of the Last Supper.
On Good Friday he will lead the traditional Via Crucis (Way of the Cross) procession at the Colosseum and on Saturday celebrate evening Mass at St Peter's.
On Easter Sunday, Holy Week ceremonies will reach their climax when John Paul appears on the central balcony of St Peter's Basilica to pronounce his annual Urbi et orbi (to the City. and to the World) message.