Pilgrims welcome pope with confetti, balloons
Hundreds of thousands of young pilgrims greeted a beaming Benedict XVI with confetti, balloons and chants of "Long Live the Pope!" as he paraded through Madrid in his white popemobile on his arrival Thursday for a spectacular youth festival.
The welcome was a sharp contrast from the scenes on Wednesday night when thousands of anti-pope protesters and hundreds of young Roman Catholics hurled insults at each other in a central square.
The pontiff was greeted by King Juan Carlos I and Queen Sofia before traveling through Madrid's streets.
Hundreds of thousands of cheering supporters crammed onto bridges and pavements, throwing confetti and balloons in the yellow and white Vatican colours over the popemobile, surrounded by tights security.
The crowds chanted "Long live the pope!"; "Benedicto, Benedicto!" and "This is the youth of the pope!"
"This shows that the Catholic youth is very much alive," said Jesus Godoy, a 27-year-old seminarian from Venezuela as he watched Benedict XVI.
The youths wore yellow T-shirts and floppy hats of the World Youth Day festival, which began Tuesday and lasts until Sunday.
Many were shaded from the sun with umbrellas, and waved colourful flags from countries such as Argentina, Belgium, Spain, Ireland and Canada.
"This is the first time we've come to see the pope and to the World Youth Day," said a smiling Hugo Cuellar, from Mexico, who waited behind a barrier for three hours to see the pontiff pass by.
"If was allowed to, I would jump up and touch him," he joked.
In the evening, the papal cortege heads to the central Plaza Cibeles for a welcoming ceremony complete with an air force fly-over painting the colours of the Vatican and Spanish flags in the sky, and an equestrian show.
Huge speakers blared out pop music in the city as hundreds of thousands of the pope's fans waited in the heat, carrying backpacks issued by the organisers containing alcohol-free beer, fans and guidebooks.
More than one million people from 193 countries are expected in Madrid for the festivities.
Many will spend Saturday night on an esplanade the size of 48 football pitches at an airbase near the capital.
Benedict celebrates mass there on Sunday morning at a white altar almost 200 metres (660 feet) long in front of a wave-shaped stage and under a giant parasol "tree", made of interwoven golden rods.
But the party atmosphere was shattered Wednesday evening with a confrontation between pilgrims and anti-pope protesters angry over the cost of the visit at a time of economic crisis.
Some protesters "tried to steal my backpack, they told me that they had paid for it, but I paid for it," said Godoy, referring to the bags given to each pilgrim who pays a registration fee for the WYD.
"We responded (to the protests) with the message of Christ, with a message of peace, a blessing," he said.
© 2011 AFP