Pope walks into Madrid to meet pilgrims at youth festival

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Pope Benedict XVI walked through an historic gateway to Madrid joined by pilgrims from five continents on his first day presiding over World Youth Day festivities.

The 84-year-old head of more than one billion Roman Catholics received a rapturous welcome from hundreds of thousands of faithful waving flags from around the world as he paraded through the streets in his popemobile to the Puerta de Alcala, one of the five historic gateways to the city.

Benedict descended from the vehicle and was handed the keys to the city by the mayor of Madrid, Alberto Ruiz-Gallardon.

He then walked under the arch of the gateway in a symbolic entrance to the city, accompanied by 50 young pilgrims -- 10 from each of the five continents.

The pontiff was treated to a equestrian dressage show by riders in traditional Spanish costumes before continuing on in the popemobile to the Plaza Cibeles for the welcoming ceremony.

Benedict is making his third visit to Spain in his six years as pope, but his first to Madrid.

The World Youth Festival, which began Tuesday and lasts until Sunday, is expected to draw more than one million people from 193 nations.

© 2011 AFP

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