Pope holds mass in storm-damaged Madrid base

DVBP875 4 R 0913 ESP /AFP-VC84 Vatican-pope-Spain-WYD lead-WRAP Pope holds mass in storm-damaged Madrid base by Jean-Louis de la Vaissiere =(Picture+Video)= ATTENTION - ADDS colour, quotes /// MADRID, Aug 21, 2011 (AFP) - Pope Benedict XVI, emerging into a dazzling sun after being lashed by a violent storm, celebrated mass Sunday for 1.5 million young pilgrims at a vast Madrid air base. After spending a night under the stars, the faithful cheered as the 84-year-old arrived at the base, hit by sheets of rain, bolts of lightning and powerful winds the night before. The leader of the world's 1.2 billion Roman Catholics then took his place on a tall white throne atop a massive wave-shaped stage, shaded by a giant parasol "tree", made of interwoven golden rods. "I hope you were able to sleep despite the inclement weather," the pope said. "I am sure that this morning you lifted your eyes to the sky more than once, not just your eyes but also your heart," said the pope, draped in a white vestment and golden cloak and wearing a skullcap. Many pilgrims could not receive the holy sacrament -- the blood and body of Christ for Roman Catholics -- because gusts of wind had damaged some temporary chapels, organisers said. They instead accepted "spiritual communion" at the mass, which was the climax of August 16-21 World Youth Day celebrations, said a spokesman for the organisers. One of 17 tents holding the sacrament collapsed in the Saturday night tempest, injuring seven young people who were taken to hospital with light injuries including one broken leg. "Make Christ, the son of God, the centre of your life," the pope told the pilgrims from 193 nations, many of them wearing red or yellow floppy hats or fending off the sun with multicoloured umbrellas. "Let me also remind you that following Jesus in faith means walking at his side in the communion of the Church," he cautioned, alluding to "pick and choose" believers who follow only some precepts of the faith. "We cannot follow Jesus on our own," the pope said. "Anyone who would be tempted to so do 'on his own' or to approach the life of faith with the kind of individualism so prevalent today will risk never truly encountering Jesus, or will end up following a counterfeit Jesus." Also attending the Sunday service were Spain's King Juan Carlos I and Queen Sofia. "This rain was a blessing. It made us laugh. We were so hot," said Ryoko Hasunuma, a nun who come from Japan with a group of about 300 pilgrims and spent the night at the airfield. As the heavens opened during World Youth Day celebrations Saturday night, Benedict's skullcap was swept off and an assistant struggled to shelter the pope with a large white umbrella, which shook in the wind. The pope, his thick white hair in disarray, gripped a copy of his sodden speech, the pages and his vestments flapping in the wind. Pilgrims tried to take shelter under large white and yellow umbrellas at the vast esplanade -- the size of 48 football fields -- at the Cuatro Vientos (Four Winds) airbase outside Madrid. Others used whatever they could find, or simply got drenched. Firefighters were seen checking the stage structure for storm damage. But the pope had not considered abandoning the service, said the Holy See's spokesman, Federico Lombardi. "Benedict XVI was determined, extremely determined to stay, just as the young stayed. He had not the slightest doubt. The storm was a parable of Christian life in which moments of difficulty are overcome by the strength of faith," Lombardi said. "Today, the pope is very calm, very favourably impressed by the endurance of the young and their prayers." The Vatican spokesman said police estimate 1.5 million pilgrims packed the esplanade at the airbase, spilling out onto the surrounding area as there was not enough space. Organisers however declined to give a figure. Saturday's storm had cut short a homily by the pope in which he defended marriage "in which a man and a woman, in becoming one flesh, find fulfilment in a profound life of communion. "To acknowledge the beauty and goodness of marriage is to realize that only a setting of fidelity and indissolubility, along with an opennness to God's gift of life, is adequate to the grandeur and dignity of marital love," the homily said. The Roman Catholic Church has condemned the sweeping liberal reforms brought in by Spain's Socialist government in recent years, including easier access to abortion, gay marriage and fast-track divorce. The attitude of the pope, spiritual leader of the world's 1.2 billion Roman Catholics, has sparked anger among the gay and lesbian community in Spain, however. Spanish police Thursday foiled plans by 100 gays and lesbians to stage a kiss-in before the pope in Madrid, blocking the protesters before they could meet up. The sheer scale of the celebrations in Madrid has also sparked angry demonstrations at a time of economic hardship, with unemployment for under-25s running at more than 45 percent. Thousands of protesters marched in central Madrid almost daily to protest the cost but organisers say most of the cost will be covered by a registration fee from the pilgrims, and the event is a big tourist boost. The Roman Catholic Church's next World Youth Day festival will be held in Rio de Janeiro in 2013. bur-djw/wdb/gk AFP 210943 GMT AUG 11