Thousands wait for hours to attend Pope's mass in Santiago

6th November 2010, Comments 0 comments

Chanting "Long Live the Pope", singing Christian songs and clutching lighted candles, thousands of faithful queued, some all night, to see Benedict XVI on Saturday in Spain's holiest city of Santiago de Compostela.

Children as young as 10, elderly men and women, monks, nuns, priests and some in wheelchairs, waited patiently for hours in the cold outside the vast Plaza Obradoiro in Santiago's medieval heart, where the pontiff was to celebrate mass at around 4:30pm (1530 GMT).

"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 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.

Abilarolo Gomez, a 73-year-old farmer, said he had spent "a very agreeable night" waiting, without sleep, since 9pm on Friday.

That was after walking 450 kilometres (280 miles) on the Way of Saint James, or Camino de Santiago, pilgrimage route that ends in the northwestern city of Santiago, where the 12th century cathedral is believed to hold the remains of Saint James the Apostle.

"My enthusiasm about seeing the pope has overcome any tiredness," he said, wearing the traditional brown felt hat with scallop shell symbol of the Camino.

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

"We just heard that the pope was here when we arrived but I'm very excited," she said as she waited with a friend in the chilly morning mist.

All must pass through tight security, including bag searches, to enter the Plaza Obradoiro, where a massive sound stage has been set up.

Many carried 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.

One group of young people sang Christian songs accompanied by guitars, while others carried lighted candles and many chanted "Viva el Papa!" ("Long Live the Pope!).

Angeles Sola, a teacher, was in charge of some 50 school children from the northwestern town of Vigo who had waited in line excitedly since 3:30am.

They were about to spend another eight hours inside the square, where 7,000 people will be seated, for the pope's mass.

"We'll be singing songs and finding ways to keep them amused," she said.

Another group of 12 students and pupils from Galicia spent the night in sleeping bags outside the square.

"The pope's visit here is an historic event," said one of them, Javier Lopez, 20, a medical student.

Benedict "does not get the recognition that (the late Pope) John Paul II did," lamented another, Gimenez Dominguez, 18.

The students said they backed Benedict's conservative views, and opposed the liberal reforms imposed by Spain's Socialist government of Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero on abortion rights, gay marriage and fast-track divorce.

The pope lands in Spain later Saturday to reclaim a bastion of the Church from the lure of such measures.

Before celebrating mass, he will pray at the tomb said to hold the remains of Saint James the Apostle, discovered by a hermit in 813.

On Sunday, he heads to Barcelona to sanctify Antoni Gaudi's unfinished masterpiece, the Sagrada Familia.

© 2010 AFP

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