Papal mass ends festivities in storm-hit Madrid
DVBP967 4 R 0870 ESP /AFP-VE58
Papal mass ends festivities in storm-hit Madrid
by Jean-Louis de la Vaissiere
ATTENTION - RECASTS, ADDS quotes on Rio announcement ///
MADRID, Aug 21, 2011 (AFP) - Pope Benedict XVI, emerging into a dazzling sun after being lashed by a violent storm, celebrated mass Sunday at a vast Madrid airbase to conclude festivities for 1.5 million pilgrims.
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 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 at the end of a six-day event that has been marked by the tempest, blistering heat and angry protests.
"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 World Youth Day celebrations.
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.
The next World Youth Day event will be held in Rio de Janeiro in 2013, the pope announced. "I hope to see you again in two years' time at the next World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil," the pope said in Portuguese.
The pontiff warned pilgrims from 193 nations, many of them wearing red or yellow floppy hats or fending off the sun with multicoloured umbrellas, not to try to adhere to faith without the Church.
"We cannot follow Jesus on our own," the pope told the faithful strewn across a vast esplanade -- the size of 48 football fields -- at the Cuatro Vientos airbase.
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 on the airbase 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. 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 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 traditional 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 in Spain 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.
AFP 211017 GMT AUG 11