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“Uphold human dignity” says the Pope

In Madrid, Spain, last Saturday, 20 August 2011, Pope Benedict XVI stressed the “dignity of human life, created in the image of God,” during a visit to Spain where the government has eased access to abortion and plans to legalize euthanasia.

‘’Our society all too often questions the inestimable value of life,’’ the Pope said in an address at the Saint Joseph Institute, which cares for the sick and handicapped. More than a million young people who camped out at a Spanish air base for Pope Benedict XVI’s final Mass at the church’s youth festival awoke to sunny skies Sunday, hours after a fierce thunderstorm forced the pope to cut short his remarks and damaged some structures. Six people were slightly injured when a tent collapsed during the storm and some makeshift chapels set up on the field’s perimeter were also damaged, forcing organizers to announce Sunday morning over loud-speakers that not everyone would be able to receive Communion during the Mass.

Earlier on Saturday, the Pope stressed the importance of priestly celibacy at mass with thousands of future priests from five continents. Priests needed to ‘’leave behind all earthly desire,’’ the Pope said in his homily at the Almudena Cathedral. In Spain, the vocation of priesthood is on the decline, with the average age of priests about 65 years. Some analysts attribute the lack of priests partly to the requirement of celibacy.

Prior to the mass, the Pope absolved four young people from their sins at Madrid’s Retiro Park, where 200 confessionals have been set up. About 40,000 pilgrims have confessed their sins to priests from all over the world in more than 50 languages. Despite the discomfort, pilgrims who spent the night in sleeping bags, tents and under tarps seemed unfazed and organizers announced they were opening a new area at the air base to accommodate late arrivals.

“The night was amazing, I didn’t sleep at all,” said Adrinna Wista, a 21-year-old Polish pilgrim. “We stayed the night chatting, meeting new people and praying with them. Amazing.” Pope Benedict arrived at the field Sunday morning and processed through the crowd in his white Popemobile to the cheers and chants of the flag-waving pilgrims. Spain’s King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia were on hand. In his initial remarks to the crowd, Pope Benedict said he hoped the young people had managed to get some sleep despite the weather.

On Saturday night, Pope Benedict was forced to cut short his speech at the prayer vigil after the storm knocked out the sound system. The Pope drew hundreds of thousands of people to his appearances at a welcoming event on Thursday and a Way of the Cross – a series of prayers reflecting on Jesus’ suffering before He was crucified – on Friday.

The Pope on Saturday drew hundreds of thousands of young people to a rapturous rally, which was interrupted by a rainstorm in Madrid. Rain forced the pope to interrupt a speech which would have stressed the indissolubility of marriage and described it as a union between man and woman, according to advance drafts provided by the Vatican. The prayer vigil at the Spanish capital’s Cuatro Vientos airport was the third event where Benedict drew hundreds of thousands of people since his arrival Thursday in Madrid for World Youth Day celebrations. Organizers put attendance – including Crown Prince Felipe and his wife – at nearly 2 million people. Until now, however, the number of pilgrims in Madrid has been estimated at about 1 million from more than 190 countries.

Many of the youths had waited for the pope for hours in temperatures of about 40 degrees celsius. Health workers attended to more than 600 victims of heat-related maladies. The heat then turned into a rainstorm, interrupting the address of the smiling pope, who clutched his papers as his white hair blew in the wind. ‘’Thank you for your joy and resistance. Your strength is bigger than the rain,’’ Benedict said. ‘’The Lord sends you lots of blessings with the rain.’’ The religious ceremonies were then resumed. ‘’We have lived an adventure together,’’ the pontiff said at the end. ‘’With Christ, you can confront the trials of life.’’

(DPA and AP)

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Catholic pilgrims pour into Madrid for youth festival 2011

Catholic pilgrims from across the world descended on Madrid Monday for a youth festival expected to draw more than a million faithful, with the highlight an open-air Mass celebrated by Pope Benedict XVI.

The World Youth Day festival, which runs from Tuesday to Sunday, has been criticized, however, for the costs involved in welcoming the head of the Roman Catholic Church as Spain struggles with an economic crisis.

But WYD officials say most of the costs would be covered by the pilgrims themselves – arriving from 193 countries – and the event would be a massive tourist boost for the city of Madrid.

A huge stage has been erected at the central Plaza de Cibeles, one of Madrid’s most emblematic sites.

The square will host three of the four main events during WYD: the opening Mass on Tuesday, the papalwelcome two days later and the Stations of the Cross ceremony on Friday.

On Saturday, hundreds of thousands will be entertained by pop groups at the Cuatro Vientos air base southwest of the capital, where the pope holds a “Prayer Vigil” in the evening.

The young pilgrims will spend the night under the stars at the air base with duvets and rugs on a vast esplanade the size of 48 football fields.

The 84-year-old pontiff celebrates Mass there on Sunday morning at a white altar almost 200 meters (660 feet) long in front of a wave-shaped stage and under a giant parasol “tree,” made of interwoven golden rods that will protect him from Madrid’s brutal August heat.

Madrid’s airport was bustling Monday with tens of thousands of excited young pilgrims carrying large backpacks, studying maps to find out how to get to the churches or schools where they will be staying, or waiting for buses.

Many were chaperoned by priests or nuns, and snapping photos of each other.

Veronica Jackson, from Ireland, said this is her fifth visit to the World Youth Day celebrations, launched bypope John Paul II in 1986 as a way to revitalize the faith among young Catholics.

“There’s a problem in Ireland about young people going to church and it’s good for them to come here because they experience a young Church,” she said.

A steady stream of young pilgrims poured into Our Lady of Remembrance Jesuit school in northern Madrid, which will house 3,000 people from 50 nations in its classrooms and gyms during the event.

“This is a chance to meet people from all over the world who have the same faith and meet the leader of the Church. You don’t get to do that every day,” said Grace Allen, a 21-year-old nursing student from San Francisco as she stood by the sleeping bag she had unfolded on the floor of the school’s gym.

Women will sleep on the ground floor of the school and men on the second floor.

“Wherever there is a space on the floor, there will be people sleeping,” said Alvaro Paternina, 21, a Madrid dentistry student who was volunteering to help get the pilgrims settled in at the school.

Benedict last visited Spain in November 2010 for a trip in which he railed against social reforms introduced by Spain’s Socialist government such as same-sex marriage, easier access to abortion and fast-track divorce.

One government minister, Ramon Jauregui, has already warned that he did not consider it “appropriate” for the pope to criticize Spanish society again when he comes this week.

Some 150 groups that oppose the pope’s visit plan to protest Wednesday on the eve of his arrival. They include groups representing gays and lesbians, feminists as well as leftist political parties.

The country’s 15-M “indignant” movement – launched on May 15 against the management of the economic crisis, soaring unemployment and political corruption – is also mulling a series of protests.

By Daniel Silva
Agence France-Presse

 

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