CNS PHOTO | PAUL HARING
Pilgrims pray during Eucharistic adoration at the WYD prayer vigil Aug. The vigil followed a severe storm of driving wind and rain.
MADRID — Hours after firefighters doused overheated pilgrims with much-needed jets of water, the heavens added to their efforts by driving rain and wind onto the more than one million young Catholics camping at Cuatro Vientos airbase for the World Youth Day vigil.
But the rain did not dampen the spirits of the pilgrims, who sang and chanted all the louder for Pope Benedict, who entered the airbase to cheers and applause.
The pope, however, skipped the longer speech he had prepared in favour of short addresses to pilgrims in Spanish, French, English, German, Italian, Portuguese and Polish.
In the different languages Aug. 20, he told the young people to be proud of the gift of their faith and they should "gather with others to deepen it, be faithful to the celebration of the Eucharist, the mystery of faith par excellence."
Pope Benedict asked that the youths, during the Eucharistic Adoration that followed, "raise our minds and hearts to Jesus Christ" so he "may pour out his Spirit upon us and upon the whole Church."
He encouraged them to seek their vocation and to "persevere in it with joy and fidelity, knowing that he never abandons you or betrays you."
"Guard the flame which God has lit in your hearts tonight. Never let it go out, renew it each day, share it with your contemporaries who live in darkness and who are seeking a light for their way," he said.
"This vigil will remain as an unforgettable experience in your lives."
The pilgrims began arriving in the morning — some on foot, some via Metro, some by bus — at the airbase baking in the Spanish desert.
Using sleeping bags and tarps, they staked their claims for sleeping space. Throughout the day, firefighters hosed off grateful crowds, and pilgrims clamoured for drinking water.
As the sun lowered in the sky, anticipation began to build for the arrival of the pope, who entered Cuatro Vientos in his popemobile to shouts of joy and welcome.
The storm arrived shortly after the pope and caused a temporary pause in the proceedings. Once the skies cleared, however, Eucharistic Adoration continued as planned, and pilgrims dropped to their knees in reverence in front of the Blessed Sacrament.
A deep silence followed, during which pilgrims prayed quietly, either standing or kneeling on the ground. Cheers erupted again for the pope as he left the stage.
Rachel Leghezza, 17, from the Diocese of Brooklyn, N.Y., said the experience was "unworldly."
"You have these little connections with people from other countries where you just kind of click and you realize that you're all here for the same reason, to rejoice and celebrate being Catholic," she said.
"Seeing over a million people in unison celebrating God is . . . something to be seen."