VATICAN CITY, APRIL 11, 2003 ( John Paul II entrusted the world's youth to the Blessed Virgin Mary during a festive gathering of 40,000 young people from Rome and neighboring dioceses.

The Pope, who joked with the young on several occasions, gave each of them a rosary to implore God for peace. The meeting Thursday was part of the celebrations of this year's World Youth Day, which will end on Palm Sunday in dioceses around the world.

The young people, who congratulated the Holy Father for his close to 25-year pontificate, gave him three gifts in return.

Ugo Bentivegna, 25, of the Focolare Movement, gave him a pilgrim's staff, so that he will continue to travel and meet with young people worldwide.

Eloisa Baldacci, 25, of the St. Agnes Roman youth group, gave the Pope the plan for the John Paul II Youth Cultural Center being built in Rome for the Christian formation of young people.

Gabriele Mannucci, 27, of Rome's St. Thomas Aquinas parish, gave the Pope a dove, in gratitude for his service to peace.

Young Canadians, who took part in Toronto's World Youth Day last July, carried the WYD cross and an icon of Mary to the atrium of St. Peter's Basilica.

This Palm Sunday, during the papal Mass, the Canadians will hand the cross to their German contemporaries, who will carry it to their homeland. The next international World Youth Day is scheduled for Cologne in 2005.

The young people had to cope with the intermittent rain that fell in St. Peter's Square. Before and after their meeting with the Holy Father, they heard the testimonies and talks of Italian singers and artists.

"We are young!" the Pope said, interrupting his address to encourage his listeners to cope with the downpour.

During an Act of Entrustment of youth to Mary, which the Pope pronounced at the end of the meeting, he said that "the young people of this century, at the dawn of the new millennium, still live the torments deriving from sin, from hatred, from violence, from terrorism and from war."

He added: "O Mary, help them to respond to their vocation. Lead them to the knowledge of true love and bless their affections. Sustain them in the moment of suffering. Render them intrepid messengers of the greeting of Christ on the day of Easter: Peace be with you!

"With them, I also entrust myself once again to you and with confident affection I repeat to you: I am all yours!"

During his address, the Holy Father recalled the wartime years of his youth and then appealed to young people "to commit themselves to peace."

"At this difficult time of history, while terrorism and war threaten the harmony among men and religions," he said, "I wish to entrust you to Mary so that you will be promoters of the culture of peace, more necessary today than ever."