MADRID – Pope Benedict XVI urged a crowd of young people estimated at more than 1.5 million to become missionaries for the faith Sunday, giving them words of encouragement as he concluded a glitch-marred church youth festival and announced that the next edition will be in Rio de Janeiro in 2013.
Benedict told the pilgrims at a Madrid airfield hosting World Youth Day that they should not keep their faith private but participate fully in the life of their parishes and remain in communion with the church.
“So do not keep Christ to yourselves! Share with others the joy of your faith,” he said.
Hours earlier, a fierce thunderstorm during a prayer vigil at the airfield had forced Benedict to cut short his remarks and slightly injured six people when a tent collapsed. Some makeshift chapels set up on the field’s perimeter were also damaged, forcing organizers to announce Sunday morning over loudspeakers that not everyone would be able to receive Communion during the Mass.
In fact, Yago de la Cierva, head of the World Youth Day organizing committee, said almost none of the young people received the Eucharist during the Sunday Mass, a serious letdown for such fervent Catholics to be denied the sacrament.
Despite the discomfort and disappointment, pilgrims who spent the night in sleeping bags, tents and under tarps seemed unfazed as they awoke to sunny skies Sunday.
“The night was amazing, I didn’t sleep at all,” said Adrinna Wista, a 21-year-old Polish pilgrim. “We stayed the night chatting, meeting new people and praying with them. Amazing.”
Neither police nor the regional government have provided an official crowd count, but Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi said it was entirely “credible” that more than 1.5 million people took part.