Roman Catholic youth festival kicks off in Paris
August 19, 1997
Web posted at: 2:19 p.m. EDT (1819 GMT)
PARIS (CNN) -- Thousands of youths from all over the world
rallied in the French capital Tuesday to mark the beginning
of the 12th World Youth Day festival, which will climax
Thursday with a Mass celebrated by Pope John Paul II.
About 220,000 young worshipers were expected to attend the
week-long jamboree and at least 500,000 were expected to turn
out for the pope's Mass at Longchamps, a famous race track on
the edge of Paris.
The visitors were billeted among Roman Catholic families, at
church halls and Catholic schools and were to attend Bible
classes, talks, plays and debates, organized at more than 200
locations in the Paris region.
The largest groups were from Italy, Spain, Poland and the
There were some fears that turnout might be lower than
expected because of John Paul's controversial strict moral
The 77-year-old pontiff was expected to use his sixth trip to
France to focus on social justice and urge the young to shun
material temptations and live more wholesome, spiritual
Family planning groups loudly criticized the pope for his
plans to pay a private visit to the grave of a staunch
Of France's nearly 50 million Catholics, only 6 million
attend mass regularly and many ignore or oppose bans on
abortion, contraception and homosexuality.
French Protestants were also upset that the climax of the
four-day visit will fall on the anniversary of the St.
Bartholemew's Day massacre of up to 70,000 Huguenots by
Catholic forces in 1572.
Protestant groups blasted the timing of the final mass
on August 24 as "inopportune" and demanded a gesture of
Correspondent Jim Bitterman and Reuters contributed to this report.