VATICAN CITY, OCT. 12, 2003 ( John Paul II opened a week of celebrations for his 25th anniversary as Pope by pointing out that he has long pursued a "preferential" dialogue with young people.

The Holy Father took advantage of his Angelus address today to thank God for permitting him to reach this date. On Thursday he will celebrate his silver anniversary as Bishop of Rome by presiding at a Mass in St. Peter's Square.

"I now thank all those who will be united with me in prayer, in gratitude to God for his constant and provident assistance," he told pilgrims gathered in the square to pray the midday Angelus.

John Paul II then recalled his first Angelus message as Pope on Oct. 22, 1978, when he said to young people: "You are the future of the world, you are the hope of the Church, you are my hope."

"I must acknowledge that the response of young people has been truly encouraging," he said in a tired voice. "Today I want to thank them for having always been close to me during these years and I want them to know that I continue to count on them."

The Holy Father ended by entrusting future generations to the Virgin Mary, so that they will be prepared and disposed to do the will of God and "to build with generosity a more just and fraternal world."

Celebrations for the 25th anniversary of this pontificate, the fourth longest in history, will begin on Wednesday afternoon with the opening of a meeting of cardinals from all over the world.

On Thursday morning, the day of the anniversary, the Pope will sign the apostolic exhortation on the conclusions of the 2001 synod, which focused on the role of bishops. At 6 p.m. that day, he will preside at the Mass in St. Peter's Square.

Next Sunday, Oct. 19, the Mass of beatification of Mother Teresa of Calcutta is expected to attract 200,000 people.

On Oct. 21, the Pope will give the red hat to 30 new cardinals in a consistory. He has kept the name of a 31st cardinal secret.