Saturday, August 20, 2011

Gale buffets Pope at million-strong Madrid vigil

As the Pope was speaking, the weather suddenly broke

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A rainstorm has disrupted a keynote homily being delivered by Pope Benedict XVI to a million-strong crowd of pilgrims at an air base near Madrid.

Losing his skull cap in the gale, and sheltered by an umbrella, the 84-year-old commended the crowd for having faith "stronger than the rain".

Many in the crowd had waited for hours in baking heat for his appearance.
The pilgrims are in the Spanish capital for a six-day international Catholic youth festival.
The cost of the event, amid high unemployment and spending cuts, drew heated protests from some in the city.

However, the event's organisers say most costs will be met by the pilgrims themselves.

At the scene

The rain came at the end of a blazing hot day for the young crowd - many of whom had been waiting in the open air for up to 12 hours, to see the Pope.

Madrid is in the midst of a heatwave and even though fire engines prowled the airfield, dousing the crowds from their hoses, hundreds of fainting pilgrims were treated by medics. At one point, even the water in the taps ran dry.

And then, when the Pope arrived to lead the evening Vigil, a sudden downpour and fierce winds blew off his skull cap, and forced him to stop in the middle of a welcome address. When he spoke again, it was to call the rain a blessing from God.

The night-time vigil is the penultimate event in this four-day papal visit to Spain where he has been met by hundreds of thousands of young Catholics here from more than 190 countries.

Celibacy message
During the day, firefighters had been hosing down the pilgrims at Cuatro Vientos air base while they waited in in temperatures of nearly 40C.

But as the Pope was speaking during the evening, the weather suddenly broke, drenching the crowd.

An assistant tried to shelter him with a large white umbrella, which shook in the wind.
The Pope, his white hair ruffled, had to abandon the main part of his homily but told the pilgrims: "Your faith is stronger than the rain."

He will return to the air base on Sunday for the final Mass of his visit.
Earlier on Saturday, the Pope celebrated Mass for at least 4,500 future priests at Madrid's Almudena Cathedral.

Priests, he said, must understand their "decision to live in celibacy for the kingdom of heaven", adding that men should approach the priesthood only "if you are completely determined to exercise it in obedience to the Church's precepts".

The Pope drew thunderous applause when he announced that he would bestow a rare honour on Spain's Saint John of Avila by proclaiming him a doctor of the Church.
Only 33 doctors of the Church have been proclaimed since 1295.

On Friday riot police confronted protesters in Madrid's city centre, as priests and teachers hurried young Catholic pilgrims down side streets.

The protest began as the Pope, joined by hundreds of thousands of supporters, took part in a Way of the Cross procession, in memory of the crucifixion of Christ.
The BBC's Sarah Rainsford says wherever the Pope goes, hundreds of thousands of ecstatic Catholics are there to meet him.

Celebrations for World Youth Day 2011 began on Tuesday evening with a giant open-air Mass where about 800 bishops, archbishops and cardinals - along with 8,000 priests - tended to the congregation.

The Pope arrived in Spain on Thursday and was greeted at Madrid's Barajas airport by King Juan Carlos I and Queen Sofia. He has also meet Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Zapatero.
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