'Be-ne-dicto' gets rousing welcome from pilgrims in Santiago

6th November 2010, Comments 0 comments

Thousands of pilgrims, many weary from all-night waits, hailed the pope with cries of "Viva el Papa!" and "Be-ne-dicto!" as he arrived to celebrate mass on Saturday in the medieval heart of Spain's holiest city.

Benedict XVI rolled into the vast Plaza Obradoiro, outside the main facade of the 12th century cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, in his transparent "popemobile", some 40 minutes behind schedule.

Dozens of Spanish bishops and archbishops in red robes and white mitres sat on one side of a massive white sound stage dressed in a giant zigzag of purple flowers in the square.

Opposite them, Crown Prince Felipe and his wife Letizia sat to hear the 83-year-old pope, dressed in a gold-embroidered, crimson cloak and large white mitre.

Many more priests, in white robes, sat in the front rows of an audience of 7,000 people.

Police spotters with binoculars stood atop the 18th-century building that is the seat of the regional government of Galicia on one side of the square, next to flags of Spain, the Vatican, the European Union and Galicia.

Some tourists watched from balconies of the luxury hotel on another side, a former hostel for pilgrims on the Way of Saint James, or Camino de Santiago.

The crowd, which had waited hours, burst into cheers and cries of "Viva el Papa!" and "Be-ne-dicto!" when the pontiff entered the square.

Many in the crowd held huge banners or the yellow and white flag of the Vatican saying "Welcome Benedict XVI", or wore yellow neckerchiefs or scarves bearing the pope's picture.

Some had spent most of the night outside the square to be sure of getting a seat at the mass.

"I'm not at all tired, I'm emotional," said Jose Antonio, a 30-year-old Spanish monk who had stood at the top of the queue for the Plaza Obradoiro since at 6:30pm (1730 GMT) Friday to be first in line to enter the square when it was opened by police at 8:00am.

Kang An-na, 29 from South Korea, said she had walked 800 kilometres on the Camino with six compatriots, all Catholics.

"We just heard that the pope was here when we arrived but I'm very excited," she said.

Benedict earlier stepped onto Spanish soil from a fog-enshrouded Alitalia plane from Rome, where he was formally greeted by Prince Felipe and Letizia, dressed in grey.

Draped in an all-white cassock, scarlet cloak and stole, the pope travelled 11 kilometres (seven miles) in the popemobile to the majestic 12th-century cathedral with twin towers soaring 75 metres (250 feet) into the sky.

Thousands lined the route, cheering, waving and releasing hundreds of white, yellow and blue balloons.

Some in the crowd still harked back to his predecessor, who twice visited this city, home of the purported remains of the Apostle, Saint James, since the ninth century and a draw for pilgrims for more than 1,000 years.

"I was much more moved by seeing John Paul II," said Maria Jose Escobar, 37, who was in the crowd along the pope's route from the airport. "We liked John Paul more, he was much more lovable."

Her friend, Jose Ramon Gondar, 38, added that "the Church is behind the times," although he respects Benedict's views on moral issues.

Later, the pope prayed silently and alone in the sumptuously decorated crypt holding the tomb of Saint James before embracing a painted statue of the first century saint clutching a staff, which has drawn pilgrims since the Middle Ages.

As he spoke later in the sprawling cathedral, he was repeatedly interrupted by applause and thunderous chants of "Viva el Papa!" by the congregation.

© 2010 AFP

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