Pilgrims huddle in dawn drizzle to see Pope Benedict mass
Huddled beneath umbrellas, thousands of pilgrims gathered in a park in central England on Sunday to catch a glimpse of Pope Benedict XVI and take part in the beatification of a local Catholic hero.
An estimated 55,000 attended the mass in Cofton Park, Birmingham, for Cardinal John Henry Newman, an Anglican convert whose legacy still has an profound religious impact in Britain's second city.
There were huge cheers as the pontiff's helicopter touched down in the city after his flight from London.
"I'm a practising Catholic. It's fantastic to see our Holy Father visit us in our country. It's an affirmation of how strong the Catholic Church is here," said Rob Lyng, 47, who runs a tour bus company in Birmingham.
"John Henry Newman was always a part of our teachings from a very early age. It's central to a lot of people in Birmingham," said Lyng, who watched the mass with a mug of coffee in his hand.
Many of the faithful had travelled through the night and arrived before dawn, braving rain to attend the spiritual highlight of the pope's four-day state visit to Britain.
The mass had a smaller-scale feel than the outdoor events earlier in the visit in Glasgow and London, with pilgrims much closer to the vast, raised, white altar.
The ground was soggy underfoot but the sun broke out through the drizzle as the pontiff arrived in his popemobile, waving to the faithful through the bulletproof windows.
Many pilgrims waved flags, most in the Vatican colours, but also from many countries around the world.
According to Lyng, the 83-year-old pontiff has won over his critics with repeated expressions of remorse over the paedophile priest crisis engulfing the Church.
"I think the visit's been a revelation. There was so much criticism at the beginning. It's taken centre stage. This country has stopped for three days. No other faith could do that."
© 2010 AFP