Euphoric pilgrims hail 'Be-ne-dicto' in Spain's holy city

6th November 2010, Comments 0 comments

Thousands of pilgrims, many weary from all-night waits, hailed the pope with chants of "Be-ne-dicto!" and "Viva el Papa!" on Saturday in the medieval heart of Spain's holiest city of Santiago de Compostela.

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

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

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

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

Police spotters with binoculars scanned the crowd from 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 15th century former hostal for pilgrims on the Way of Saint James, or Camino de Santiago.

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

The pope stopped to kiss a baby handed to him in the popemobile as he crossed the square.

Many in the crowd had brought 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.

"I was very moved," said Lucy Lamas, a Spaniard in the congregation with her two children, aged three and five, one of whom was fast asleep as the two-hour mass came to an end in the fading evening light.

"This has been very well organised, and it's not too crowded," she said. "But the children are ready to leave, after eight hours here."

Many in the congregation 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 head of the queue for the Plaza Obradoiro since 6:30 pm (1730 GMT) Friday to be first in line to enter the square when it was opened by police at 8:00 am.

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

"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 traveled 11 kilometres (seven miles) in the popemobile to the sprawling majestic cathedral with twin towers soaring 75 metres (250 feet) into the sky.

Parents among the airport employees handed over three new-born babies, draped in pink or blue blankets, for a kiss from the leader of the world's more than one billion Roman Catholics.

Tens of thousands lined the route, waving white handkerchiefs and yellow balloons representing the Vatican, some of which flew into the road in front of the German-born pope's convoy.

Some in the crowd still harked back to his predecessor, who twice visited this city, home of the remains of 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.

Thousands more cheered as the pope arrived at the cathedral to pray at the tomb of Saint James the Apostle, whose reputed remains were found by a hermit in 813.

A giant carpet of flowers lay at the cathedral entrance, a tradition of the Galician town of Poneteares.

Inside, 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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