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Record crowd attends pope's Mass in Paris

August 24, 1997
Web posted at: 1:39 p.m. EDT (1739 GMT)

PARIS (CNN) -- Pope John Paul II celebrated Mass Sunday as a record crowd of mostly young people turned out to mark the climax of the week-long World Youth Days festival.

Police said more than 1 million people gathered at the Longchamp racecourse, where the 77-year old pontiff was greeted by a sea of multi-colored national flags from around the world.

Flanked by hundreds of bishops, the pope greeted the huge crowd from a vast cathedral-style podium, which had been set up at one end of the racecourse for the service.

"Dear young people, your path does not stop here. Go forth on the roads to humanity," John Paul told the faithful.

The turnout was considerably higher than expected for the papal Mass, which marked the highlight of a six-day festival that attracted Roman Catholic youths from about 160 countries.

The pope arrived on Thursday amid controversy over his religious teachings.

He spoke out firmly against abortion and contraception, as he had in his previous visits to the country.

However, on he addressed criticism by French Protestants over the fact that Sunday's Mass fell on the anniversary of the 16th century St. Bartholomew's Day massacre of French Protestants by Catholics.

The pope acknowledged the Roman Catholic church's role in the 1572 massacre and said that religious authorities could not hide from the truth if they were to achieve reconciliation.

"Christians did things which the Gospel condemns," the pope said in a vigil, during which he pleaded with young people to revive faded Roman Catholic faith in the West.

"Belonging to different religious traditions must not constitute today a source of opposition and tension," he said.

The pope also caused controversy when he visited the grave of a noted anti-abortion campaigner, Jerome Lejeune, on Friday.

The ruling Socialist Party of Prime Minister Lionel Jospin led criticism of the visit, saying it "regretted" the decision.

Jospin argued that the visit could only encourage anti-abortion militants to break the law.

Correspondent Jim Bittermann andReuters contributed to this report.

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