Pope Benedict arrived in Madrid today, one day after a government-sanctioned protest turned into a brawl between the protesters and the police. Security is at the highest level possible as hundreds of thousands of World Youth Day pilgrims and Spaniards who love the Pope welcome him to the 26th World Youth Day, which opened on Tuesday and will continue until the Pope´s departure on Sunday. Seven protesters were detained by the police on Wednesday evening when their actions and rhetoric turned threatening, especially toward the young Catholics and their adult leaders who were trying to enjoy the evening in the plazas of central Madrid. One young American college woman from the U.S. was spat upon by a female protester for simply wearing a World Youth Day t-shirt and walking through a public place in downtown Madrid.
Despite the high security and the threats of violence, the Pope did not change his schedule, and arrived at noon at Barajas International Airport in Madrid.
There the Holy Father was greeted by King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia of Spain, along with the cardinal archbishop of Madrid, Antonio Mariai Ruoco Varella. A group of Spanish boys dressed as Swiss Guards were also on hand to welcome the Pope. A brief welcoming ceremony took place at the airport, after which the Benedict made his entrance into the city in the popemobile.
A motorcade took the Holy Father to the Vatican nunciature, where he will stay until his departure. After lunch and private meetings, the Pope will rest and begin preparation for his evening activities, which will begin in the center of the city, where he will be greeted by Madrid´s mayor, Alberto Ruiz-Gallardon, who will give the Pope a golden set of keys to the city. The Pope will then walk through the outdoor arches of one of Madrid´s most famous edifices, the Puerta de Alcala, joined by 50 World Youth Day pilgrims representing five continents. An equestrian group from the South of Spain will make a presentation for the Holy Father, and various gifts representing the Spanish people will be offered to him at the Puerta de Alcala.
Benedict will then return to the popemobile and make the short drive to the Plaza de la Cibeles, where the official welcoming ceremony for World Youth Day will take place. The Spanish airforce will fly a fleet of jets overhead emitting smoke in the colors of the Vatican and Spanish flags. A choir of Spanish university students will serenade the Pope as he arrives at the Plaza de la Cibeles, Madrid’s equivalent to Time´s Square in New York. The welcoming ceremony will include testimonials, singing, and film presentations. Between a half-million and one million young people are expected to be in Plaza de la Cibeles and the surrounding area for the welcoming ceremony. At the conclusion of the ceremony, the Pope will leave the plaza at approximately 9 pm to return to the nunciature.
Pope Benedict’s activities on Friday will include a meeting with young women religious and another with young university professors, both to be held at El Escorial, the former royal palace on the outskirts of Madrid. In the evening he will participate in the Way of the Cross, which will feature life-size scenes of Christ´s passion used throughout Spain during Holy Week services.
Fr. Matthew Gamber, S.J. is blogging this week from World Youth Day in Madrid, where he is leading a group of 53 college-aged pilgrims from the United States.
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