A million pilgrims cheer pope at Madrid airbase

20th August 2011, Comments 0 comments

Around one million young pilgrims cheered Pope Benedict XVI at an airbase near Madrid, where they had waited for hours in blistering heat on a vast esplanade.

The crowd -- from 193 countries -- waved flags and chanted "Long Live the Pope" and a 200-strong volunteer choir and orchestra delivered the World Youth Day anthem as he walked to the vast stage set up at the Cuatro Ventos base where he is to lead a prayer vigil.

The pilgrims are to spend the night in the open air at the base, eight kilometres (five miles) southwest of Madrid, before Benedict celebrates the closing mass of the August 16-21 festival there on Sunday morning.

Emergency services said they had attended to almost 900 people by early evening, mostly for dizziness, fainting and heatstroke as temperatures soared to 39 C (102 F).

The young pilgrims had gathered since the morning in blistering heat on the dusty esplanade near Madrid in a rock festival-style atmosphere.

They propped up beach parasols, umbrellas and even plastic sheets and blankets to try to fend off the punishing August sun.

Organisers have set up some 2,000 water fountains on the esplanade, the size of 48 football pitches, and fire trucks sprayed water over the sweltering pilgrims.

Organisers have erected a white altar almost 200 metres (660 feet) long in front of a vast wave-shaped stage and under a giant parasol "tree", made of interwoven golden rods for the pope at the base.

© 2011 AFP

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