CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy, JULY 21, 2002 ( Less than 48 hours before his planned departure for Canada, John Paul II spoke with enthusiasm about the upcoming World Youth Day in Toronto.

"Toronto, metropolis with a cosmopolitan vocation, is ready to become for a week the world capital of youth, future and hope of the Church and of humanity!" the Pope told pilgrims gathered today in the courtyard of the summer papal residence.

The Holy Father appeared in good spirits, speaking off the cuff to dozens of children, and patients in wheelchairs, who had gathered in Castel Gandolfo to pray the midday Angelus with him.

The Pope spoke about the purpose of his 97th international trip: "I go to pray with them and to enjoy an enriching experience of faith with them."

"The tragic events of Sept. 11 and the conflict in the Holy Land have cast a dark shadow over the world," John Paul II said. "However, Jesus exhorts his disciples to fear not, and repeats to them: 'Your are the salt of the earth ... You are the light of the world.'"

"The Christian youths who will meet in Toronto are ready to respond to Christ: Look! Here we are! In keeping with your word and without fear, we will cast the nets of the Gospel," the Pope said.

John Paul II also took note of the many youths who are unable to travel to Canada. "We will all be united in prayer, invoking the one Spirit, which makes of Christians one body in Christ," he said.

Before requesting prayers for the spiritual fruits from World Youth Day, the Holy Father thanked "all those who are working to receive the young pilgrims."

After greeting pilgrims in various languages, the Pope discovered a Polish group in the crowd, calling loudly for his attention. When greeting them, the Holy Father asked them to sing one of his favorite sons, composed by a bishop.

"The bishop will be very happy in heaven to hear your song," he told them at the end.

The Poles then cried out: "Come to our country." The Pope replied that he was on his way to Canada. In fact, he plans to visit his native Poland from Aug. 16-19.

Following his stay in Canada, John Paul II will visit Guatemala and Mexico.