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Spain’s young “Swiss guards” welcome the Pope

“Do not be ashamed of the Lord, ” proclaimed Pope Benedict XVI to an estimated 1.5 million kids who have packed Madrid, Spain.

The teens have filled Madrid’s hotels, hostels, campgrounds and parks to capacity for the six-day World Youth Days — now in its third day.

This is the 26th annual World Youth Day, founded by the late John Paul II. Every three years the event is commemorated in a massive gathering of teens and young adults from across the world.

Past venues have included Denver, Toronto, Manila, Buenos Aires, Cologne and Sydney.

“There are some,” the pope told his young greeters, “who because of their faith in Christ, suffer discrimination which leads to contempt and persecution, open or hidden, which they endure in various regions and countries.

“They are harassed to give Him up, depriving them of the signs of His presence in public life, not allowing even the mention of his Holy name.”

Just a few of the kids filling Madrid's streets

To them the pope repeated, “Do not be ashamed of the Lord. He did not spare Himself in becoming one like us and in experiencing our anguish.”

With kids filling the streets to the airport, the papal plane touched down at Madrid’s Barajas International Airport. After days of sweltering heat, cooler temperatures and a light sprinkling of rain greeted the Pope. He was greeted by Spain’s King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia and 60 miniture Swiss Guards, young Spaniards dressed in exact replicas of the famous uniforms of the Vatican guard standing to attention beneath the dais.

 

The Arkansas kids with new friends from Colombia, Italy and Mexico. Birthday girl Clare Doss is at far left, front row in a yellow hat (Photo by Blanca Beas)

In the crowd was an excited group of about 30 pilgrims from rural Arkansas who, like their 1.5 million-or-so cohorts are emailing, Facebooking and tweeting home their daily adventures — which so far has included meeting Christians their own age from all over the world.

“About to go welcome the Pope :)!!!” messaged Blanca Beas to parents back home in Green Forest, Berryville and Eureka Springs, Arkansas, avidly keeping up with their children’s pilgrimage.

“The kids, I’m told, are pumped up to see Pope Benedict!” Facebooked mom Connie Doss back at home. “Let’s hope they get in early to get front row space. I’m also told that Maria Eby and Clare have the hotspot room for WIFI so they have been pretty popular today.”

Clare is Connie’s daughter — and is celebrating her 16th birthday today. She celebrated by joining the throng of young pilgrims lining the Popemobile’s route from the airport into Madrid, where the pontiff was welcomed by the Madrid’s mayor and kids from 190 countries.

The culmination of the Pope’s trip will be a mass on Sunday at the Cuatro Vientos aerodrome near Madrid — an event officials say now they are expecting to draw over two million people.

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