DENVER -- Pope John Paul II concluded his four-day visit to Colorado yesterday with an urgent call to the world's young people to go into the city streets and preach fearlessly against "a culture of death."
At the culminating outdoor Mass of World Youth Day, he told hundreds of thousands of pilgrims under a blue sky and blazing sun, "Do not be afraid to go out on the streets and into public places, like the first apostles who preached Christ and the good news of salvation in the squares of cities, towns and villages."
Interrupted 16 times by waves of applause from the huge crowd at Cherry Creek State Park, south of Denver, the pope linked two themes that have run through his messages here -- his uncompromising opposition to abortion and his condemnation of "urban violence" as a "failure to respect God's image and likeness in our neighbor, in every other human person without exception."
While there was much joy in the multicultural music and congregational responses of the nearly four- hour-long papal Mass in seven languages, it was marred by thousands of medical emergencies -- mostly dehydration and respiratory illnesses -- caused by the lack of shade in the thin air under a relentless sun.
Denver Archbishop J. Francis Stafford, when introducing the pope yesterday morning at Cherry Creek, announced proudly that the number of people present was between 500,000 and 750,000. Arapahoe County Sheriff Pat Sullivan put the number closer to 375,000, saying even that crowd was too big for the medical services available.
Later yesterday, Sheriff Sullivan estimated the number of medical emergencies at 14,000, and a call went out for more National Guard assistance. Appeals brought in hundreds of volunteer nurses, doctors and paramedics.
But none of this was mentioned from the altar on the huge, covered stage -- the only substantial shade for miles.
It also was where Pope John Paul presided with his robed cardinals, archbishops, bishops, priests, an orchestra, organists and other musicians, including seven choirs with more than 700 voices. The hymns included an old Protestant favorite, "Amazing Grace."
The teen-agers and young adults, holding flags and banners from 73 countries, were enthusiastic despite their obvious fatigue and discomfort.
Speaking in front of a bishop's throne on the elaborate theatrical stage -- built for the visit -- the pope said that "this marvelous world" is "the theater of a never-ending battle being waged for our dignity and identity as free, spiritual beings."
In one of many applauded references to the church's anti-abortion stand, he said "hostile forces" are seeking to "eradicate from human hearts the sense of gratitude and respect for the original, extraordinary and fundamental gift of God, human life itself."
Saying that the struggle "has become increasingly direct," the pope added, "The family, especially, is under attack. And the sacred character of human life denied.
"Naturally, the weakest members of society are the most at risk -- the unborn, children, the sick, the handicapped, the old, the poor and unemployed, the immigrant and refugee."
To the sweaty, weary multitude -- in a pointed reference to the relatively high standard of living of most of his American listeners -- the pope said:
"Do not be afraid to break out of comfortable and routine modes of living, in order to take up the challenge of making Christ known in the modern metropolis . . .
"The Gospel must not be kept hidden because of fear or indifference."
'Culture of life'
In airport remarks last night to Vice President Al Gore, who saw him off for Rome, the pope made further references to the need for Americans to replace a "culture of death" with a "culture of life."
Expressing his gratitude to the vice president, to President Clinton -- who had welcomed him to Denver Thursday -- and "to the American people for being open and generous, and for the many ways in which they continue to assist needy people around the world," the pope declared in his goodbye speech:
"I pray that America will continue to believe in its own noble ideals, and I express the hope that the United States will be a wise and helpful partner in the multilateral efforts being made to resolve some of the more difficult questions facing the international community."
The pope's airplane took off shortly before 11 p.m. (EDT).
In between the World Youth Day Mass and his parting, the pope met in Denver with representatives of Vietnamese Catholics in exile.
"To the entire Vietnamese people I express my sincere affection," he said.
Spoke in Vietnamese
Speaking in Vietnamese of "the courage and tenacity with which they are trying to overcome the great obstacles resulting from the tragic experiences of the past," the pope appealed for the healing of ill-feeling and divisions connected to the Vietnam War.
"Reconstruction will only be possible with the cooperation of everyone, and this in turn calls for mutual respect, forgiveness and unity of purpose," he said.
In the pope's comments Saturday about "the deep concern of many Americans about urban violence," he was interrupted three times by a applause from a big audience of Colorado Catholics when he placed part of the blame on "the media."
In a clarification, the pope, who is a master of the use of the communications media, spoke jokingly of his own reliance on television and said he was not suggesting any abridgment of the freedom of the press, only asking it to be more responsible.
Core group of 186,000
Roman Catholic student leaders from around the world -- a core group within the total of 186,000 Catholic teen-agers and young adults who came to Denver to meet with the pope -- reported to him yesterday that they believe being a good Christian does not necessitate an end to criticism of the church.
"We recognize that, united with our brothers and sisters, we are the church of today and the church of tomorrow," they told the 73-year-old pope in several languages.
And they told the pope, whom many U.S. Catholics have been criticizing for closing his mind to dissent, "We do not ask the young people to abandon their uncertainties, questions or criticisms."