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Pope Benedict XVI Welcomes World Youth Day Pilgrims

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When Pope Benedict XVI arrived at the site of the Papal Welcome in Madrid Thursday, hundreds of thousands of young Catholics attending World Youth Day 2011 greeted him with loud applause, cheering and the waving of hundreds of banners and flags representing countries from five continents.

The young people, including a group of 60-plus from the Diocese of Raleigh, who accompanied Bishop Michael F. Burbidge on the pilgrimage, were primed for his arrival, having spent several hours prior to the Holy Father’s arrival singing, dancing, clapping, and waving the flags of their countries.

In a ceremony that took approximately two hours, Pope Benedict greeted the young people in Spanish, French, English, German, Italian, Portuguese and Polish. In English, he expressed his hope that "these days of prayer, friendship and celebration" would "bring us closer to each other and to the Lord Jesus. Make trust in Christ's word the foundation of your lives."

In his remarks, Pope Benedict explained the World Youth Day theme, "Rooted and Built up in Jesus Christ, Firm in the Faith." He told the gathering that the words of Jesus "must reach our hearts, take root and bloom there all our lives." The Holy Father encouraged the young Catholics to be firm in their faith but also aware that "in the face of our weaknesses, which sometimes overwhelm us, we can rely on the mercy of the Lord who is always ready to help us again and who offers us pardon in the sacrament of penance."

In one of his Tweets during the day, Bishop Burbidge vividly expressed the scene taking place upon Pope Benedict’s arrival. "When the Holy Father arrived today in Madrid, all the bells in the city were ringing. What a gracious welcome!" 

Following the Papal Welcome, Bishop Burbidge wrote, "Tonight, Pope Benedict XVI greeted all the pilgrims in multiple languages at the Opening ceremony. The Holy Father encouraged the young people to be 'firm in faith' and reminded them that faith in Christ Jesus keeps us on the right path both now and for eternity. The enthusiastic and joyful response of our youth clearly demonstrated the reason for our great hope in the future of our Church!"

The major event on Friday will be the pilgrims joining Pope Benedict for the Via Crucis (Way of the Cross), which is scheduled to take place at 7:30 pm Madrid time (1:30pm Eastern). It will be carried on EWTN cable channel and available online at http://virtualpilgrimage.wordpress.com/. Click on the button on the top left side of the page to access the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops live streaming feed.

Below are pictures of the pilgrims awaiting the arrival of the Holy Father and presentations made to him by young pilgrims during the Papal Welcome.