Times and climate changed with Pope’s visit

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This World Youth Day seemed different.

They each have their own unique character and memories of the big moments. But this time, the cultural climate and the natural one were more drastic.

The Irish Times:

WORLD YOUTH Day pilgrims struggled against wind, rain and lightning storms in Madrid overnight on Saturday during an outdoor vigil and Mass celebrated by Pope Benedict XVI and attended by more than a million people.

Even the Pope was affected, briefly losing his zucchetto (the white hat he wears) in the high winds midway through the vigil.

The sudden change in weather after sundown was a cruel twist of fate following, as it did, a scorching day where pilgrims had chased fire trucks circling inside the Cuatro Vientos Aerodrome just to be sprayed with cool water.

Temperatures had reached 40 degrees at one stage in the afternoon and some 700 people suffered from heat-related problems, according to medical teams.

All that changed as the Pope took to the altar at 9pm when the winds that blew in the storm reached such a high level that one of the temporary chapels on the site collapsed, injuring several people.

“Pretty much everywhere you looked there were patches of lightning and then this horizontal rain started, so umbrellas were no use – not that we had any,” said Maeve Delargy (23), from Mount Merrion in Dublin.

After a break, during which Pope Benedict had to leave the altar, the vigil continued and the festival-like atmosphere that had permeated the event throughout the week returned, despite the occasional showers.

“The more important thing is that everyone is here and that everyone is in the same spirit – it is about a community atmosphere and that’s what we have now,” said Síofra Kelly…

The size of the crowd was breathtaking, stretching as far as the eye could see. Flags from countless countries and dioceses dotted the skyline…

Crowd estimates were between 1.5 and 2 million.

The New York Times paid attention.

Pope Benedict XVI closed the religious ceremonies of World Youth Day on Sunday with a giant Mass in which he told young people to “swim against the tide” and abide by the principles of the Catholic Church despite broader changes in society. 

…the huge and ebullient welcome for the pope provided a powerful demonstration of his influence, even at a time when church attendance has been dwindling in Roman Catholic countries like Spain.

At the end of Sunday’s Mass, the pope announced that the next such event would be in Rio de Janeiro in 2013. Until then, he told those at the service, in Portuguese, that they “will be swimming against the tide in a society with a relativistic culture, which wishes neither to seek nor hold on to the truth.”

While about 70 percent of Spain’s residents consider themselves to be Catholics, the percentage attending church has fallen sharply, and the number of civil weddings overtook religious ones in 2009.

Still, the economic downturn has shown the importance of religious charities, at a time when the government has imposed severe austerity cuts to help resolve its debt problems. About 800,000 people in Spain fell into poverty from 2007 to 2010, according to a report published last month by Cáritas, a Catholic charity.   

Besides being an opportunity for the Catholic Church to strengthen its support, the event should be seen as a call for “greater social engagement,” said Cristóbal Fones, a priest and musician visiting from Chile.

Still, most of the teenagers, dressed in the event’s official yellow T-shirt and waving their national flags, said the highlight had been seeing the pope…

This is remarkable.

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