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Pope Benedict XVI draws huge crowds for mass at Fatima


Latest update : 2010-05-13

Pope Benedict XVI led a giant outdoor mass at the Portuguese shrine of Fatima Thursday before hundreds of thousands of pilgrims from around the world. Pilgrims flooded the sanctuary's esplanade to hear the pope speak.

AFP - Pilgrims flooded the shrine of Fatima on Thursday, many after spending the night outdoors, to attend a mass celebrated by Pope Benedict XVI at one of Christianity's most holy shrines.

The faithful climbed on statues of saints to get a better view and parents carried young children on their backs as police and boy scouts in their brown uniforms controled the flow of people into the esplanade of the shrine.

A choir sang "Welcome to Portugal Holy Father" as the 83-year-old head of the Roman Catholic Church entered the sprawling square in his bullet-proof white popemobile as people applauded and waved white handkerchiefs.

Up to 500,000 people were expected to attend the mass on the esplanade at Fatima, where three children claimed to have seen the Virgin Mary in 1917, turning the Portuguese village into one of the biggest draws for the Roman Catholic faithful.

Benedict's mass on Thursday is the high point of a four-day visit to Portugal and rain fell on thousands who spent the night on the esplanade in sleeping bags -- and a lucky few under tents -- to make sure they got a place.

"The rain was harder to deal with than the cold. We came to the altar at 4:30 am but there were already lots of people here, we are not as close to it as we would like," said Isaac Gonzales, 24, from Seville in Spain.

Despite the child sex scandal that has rocked the Church, the 83-year-old pope remains a huge draw. Hours before his arrival, pilgrims had claimed spots on every spare statue in the main square.

Bedraggled pilgrims formed huge queues outside the portable toilets and Fatima's cafes hoping to get breakfast.

Before the pope's arrival a large group of Spanish youths gathered near the altar where Benedict was to celebrate the mass, singing hymns, beating tambourines and dancing as they waited for the ceremony.

"We have come to support the pope so that, wherever he goes, he feels the presence of young people," said Juan Moreno, a 20-year-old software engineering student who was part of a group of 87 students who spent the night in the bus that brought them to Fatima from Madrid.

Others sat quietly in folding chairs, reciting the rosary prayer. Behind them fluttered the flags of national groups from Italy, Ireland, Brazil, Germany, the Netherlands and many from Spain.

The pope led a huge candle-lit ceremony on the esplanade on Wednesday night. Chants of "Vivo o Papa" rose up from the crowd before being drowned out by massed choirs singing hymns.

The paedophile priest controversy has failed to dampen enthusiasm and Benedict has drawn vast crowds throughout his trip to Portugal. The trip began on Tuesday with an outdoor mass in Lisbon's biggest square, which police later said 280,000 people had attended, exceeding expectations.

Shortly after his arrival here from Lisbon, the pope told priests to "take a firm stand" for their vocation.

He also used the visit to warn Portugal of the consequences of increasing secularism in the country, where nearly 90 percent are Catholic but only about 20 percent are practising.


Date created : 2010-05-13


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