1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Dried off

August 21, 2011

Pope Benedict XVI celebrated Sunday Mass at the conclusion of the World Youth Day outside Madrid - after his visit to the pilgrims' festivities the day before was struck by protest, heat and lots of rain.

Pope Benedict XVIgestures to the crowd
Huge crowds of pilgrims gathered to see the popeImage: dapd

The pope held a gigantic open-air Mass at Madrid's Cuatro Vientos airport on Sunday morning, the highlight of his four-day visit to the traditionally Catholic country.

The pope being shielded by a white umbrella
The Vatican said Benedict XVI had planned to weather any stormImage: picture-alliance/dpa

Thousands of pilgrims had spent the night at the airport - which is used by private aircraft - following a prayer vigil there with the pope the night before.

"I hope you were able to sleep despite the inclement weather," the pope said at the end of the six-day festival that has been marked by the tempest, blistering heat and angry protests.

The pope read his sermon seated on a white throne under a stylized golden tree, with Spain's King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia looking on.

Police estimated a crowd of 1.5 million, while organizers say some 2 million pilgrims were in attendance on the field the size of 48 soccer pitches.

Heavy weather

The 84-year-old pontiff was forced to cut short his speech to the faithful gatherers on Saturday evening, as assaulting winds broke the heat of the day, taking his skullcap with them. An assistant stood by with an umbrella in a failed attempt to shield the Holy See from rain.

Pope Benedict XVI waves to the pilgrims
Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims battled Saturday's heatImage: dapd

"Benedict XVI had decided, solidly decided, to stay there, like the young people who stayed," said Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi.

"He never had the slightest doubt. The storm is a parable of Christian life in which, in the most difficult moments, things are overcome by the strength of faith."

When the rain let up some 20 minutes later, Benedict told his followers: "Thank you for your joy and endurance. Your strength is greater than the rain."

The Bishop of Rome then left the stage to change and returned wearing a golden miter and a golden cloak and clutching a golden crucifix before resuming the service.

Survival of the faithful

Saturday was a tough day for pilgrims, who have flocked to Madrid from some 190 countries to attend World Youth Day festivities. Health workers say some 700 people suffered heat-related problems while waiting for the pope as temperatures rose to 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit).

Firefighters used their trucks to spray overheated pilgrims with water.

As the storm finally eased the heat, it also caused one of 17 tents set up as temporary chapels to collapse, injuring seven people, including one girl who sustained a broken leg.

Communion during the Mass was cancelled because the storm also destroyed some of the consecrated wafers, organizers said.

A stance on gay rights

Weather wasn't the pope's only enemy on Saturday. Protesters continued to take to the streets, demonstrating against the costs of the Holy See's visit and the Vatican's fierce opposition to same-sex marriages.

A gay couple kiss in protest to the visit of Pope Benedict XVI
Gay rights activists say the Vatican's policies on marriage have no place in SpainImage: AP

About 100 gays and lesbians demonstrated in Madrid, some with young children in tow, holding signs that read "I am in favor of ALL families" and "Secular state" as they stood in front of dozens of balloons of different sizes and colors.

The protest came after Thursday plans for a gay and lesbian kiss-in in front of the pope were foiled by police, who blocked the protesters before they could meet up.

"The Catholic Church did not come to carry out a religious act in Spain," said Miguel Angel Sanches, a gay rights activist who organized the protest.

"It has come to stage a political act to demonstrate its political and economic power because it is aware that Spain no longer follows its doctrine."

World Youth Day takes place every three years at different locations around the globe. During this year's events, the pope has given special emphasis to promoting Spain's Catholic tradition.

In his interrupted speech, later released by the Vatican, he defended the church's stance on the indissolubility of marriage as the union between a man and a woman.

Author: David Levitz (AFP, dpa)

Editor: Toma Tasovac