Pope interrupts speech as storm drenches pilgrims

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Pope Benedict XVI interrupted a speech Saturday for at least 20 minutes when a summer storm swept off his skullcap, shook the stage and drenched masses of pilgrims at a Madrid airbase.

As the heavens opened, an assistant tried to shelter the 84-year-old pontiff with a large white umbrella, which was shaking in the strong wind.

The pope, his white hair blown into disarray, gripped a copy of his sodden speech, the pages and his vestments flapping in the wind.

A sea of pilgrims, by some reports more than a million, tried to take shelter under large white and yellow umbrellas. Others danced in the rain and the vast majority with no shelter just got wet.

When the rain eased, the pope said to cheers: "Thank you for your joy and resistance."

"Your strength is greater than the rain.

"The Lord with the rain has given us many blessings. In this too you are an example."

He then left the stage to change and returned wearing a golden mitre, draped in a golden cloak and clutching a golden crucifix.

Firefighters were seen checking the stage after the storm before the leader of the world's 1.2 billion Roman Catholics returned.

The pope was seated on a large white throne on a vast white, wave-shaped stage, protected by an umbrella and beneath a giant parasol "tree", made of interwoven golden rods when the deluge broke.

"You were extremely warm this afternoon and you wanted water. We are going to wait for a few more minutes, counting on your prayers and see if this stops," an organiser said on the loudspeaker during the interruption.

The pilgrims are supposed to spend the night in the open air at the base, eight kilometres (five miles) southwest of Madrid.

Benedict is to celebrate the closing mass of the August 16-21 youth festival there on Sunday morning, to be broadcast on 20 giant screens and 48 speakers.

© 2011 AFP

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