Sweltering pilgrims pray for water and get a storm
SPAIN: Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims sweltered for hours in
baking heat awaiting Pope Benedict XVI — before the heavens opened and a
storm lashed the vast esplanade as the pontiff was speaking. The pope
interrupted his speech for at least 20 minutes as the wind lashed the
stage, blowing off his skullcap and leaving his vestments flapping.
The pope, his white hair blown into disarray, gripped a copy of his
sodden speech, as an assistant tried to shelter the 84-year-old pontiff
with a large white umbrella, which was shaking in the strong wind.
A sea of pilgrims, by some reports more than a million, tried to take
shelter under umbrellas, tarpaulins or whatever they could find. Others
danced in the rain and the vast majority with no shelter just got wet.
When the rain eased, the pope said to cheers: “Thank you for your joy
and endurance. Your strength is greater than the rain.
“The Lord with the rain has given us many blessings. In this too you
are an example.” He then left the stage to change and returned wearing a
golden mitre, draped in a golden cloak and clutching a golden crucifix
to continue the service.
Firefighters checked the stage after the storm before the leader of
the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics returned. The pope was seated on
a large white throne on a vast white, wave-shaped stage, protected by an
umbrella and beneath a giant parasol “tree”, made of interwoven golden
rods when the deluge broke.
“We lived through the storm, not with fear, not for nothing, it was
worth it, it happens once in a lifetime,” said Lorena Caceres, a
23-year-old student. The pilgrims are supposed to spend the night in the
open air at the base, eight kilometres (five miles) southwest of Madrid,
where Benedict is to celebrate the closing mass of the August 16-21
youth festival on Sunday morning.
Before the storm, medical services struggled to cope as hundreds of
thousands of young pilgrims waited for hours in the dusty esplanade —
the size of 48 football fields — in temperatures of 39 C (102 F).