Pope receives enthusiastic greeting in Spain

By David Kerr

Madrid, Spain, Aug 18, 2011 / 10:27 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Benedict XVI arrived in Madrid for World Youth Day 2011, to the delight of a massive throng of young people. Over the next four days, he will meet and pray with over a million young pilgrims.

“I come as the Successor of Peter, to confirm them all in the faith, with days of intense pastoral activity, proclaiming that Jesus Christ is the way, the truth and the life,” he said upon his midday arrival at Madrid’s Barajas Airport.

Pope Benedict was formally welcomed by a King Juan Carlos and Queen Sophia of Spain along with Cardinal Rouco Varela of Madrid.

As military bands played the Spanish and Vatican national anthems, an honor guard composed of Spain’s military and, uniquely, a group of schoolboys dressed as mini-Swiss Guards met the Pope. Also there to welcome the pontiff were two thousand enthusiastic young pilgrims waving Spanish and papal flags.

King Juan Carlos thanked Pope Benedict for his third visit to Spain in his six years as pontiff, adding ,“we interpret this as a very special distinction for our country.” In return, the Pope described Spain as a country “rich in history and in culture through the vitality of its faith, which has borne fruit in so many saints over the centuries.”

Pope Benedict said that the hundreds of thousands of World Youth Day pilgrims were seeking an alternative to “the prevailing superficiality, consumerism and hedonism, the widespread banalization of sexuality, the lack of solidarity, the corruption,” and that “they know that, without God, it would be hard to confront these challenges and to be truly happy.”

“But, with God beside them, they will possess light to walk by and reasons to hope, unrestrained before their highest ideals, which will motivate their generous commitment to build a society where human dignity and true brotherhood are respected.”

During his four-day visit, Pope Benedict will attend a total of nine World Youth Day events. This will include leading young people in the Way of the Cross tomorrow, hearing their confessions on Saturday, and offering Mass for over a million pilgrims at Madrid’s Cuatro Vientos airport on Sunday.

Of the young pilgrims, the Pope said it gives him “great joy to listen to them, pray with them and celebrate the Eucharist with them,” because “they really have a future before them and are not afraid of the decisive.”

Hence, he said, “World Youth Day brings us a message of hope like a pure and youthful breeze, with rejuvenating scents which fill us with confidence before the future of the Church and the world.”

He then made his way to the papal nuncio’s residence in the popemobile. Pope Benedict was accompanied along the entire route by the cheers of hundreds of thousands of pilgrims who chanted “Benedicto! Benedicto!” while showering the popemobile with confetti and balloons. Home-made banners were also in great evidence, with one displaying the message “From Madrid to Heaven with the Pope.”