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The pope speaks despite the storm

Despite gusting winds that blew off his hat and driving rain that cut short his sermon, Pope Benedict XVI spoke to a crowd that the Associated Press estimated at “more than a million young people” Saturday night.

In the middle of the crowd was 19-year-old Blanca Beas from Green Forest, Arkansas, who for a week has faithfully sent home photos and updates of her pilgrimage with 30 other kids and chaperones from two rural parishes near the Missouri border.

“Pulling an all nighter with the Pope!! :)” she texted home to anxious parents and friends worried by accounts of the storm that swept Cuatro Vientos airport — which for the event was turned into an outdoor cathedral. Police estimated the crowd at 1.5 million.

Organizers said registrations had approached 2 million — swamping plans for everyone to receive communion. Instead, long lines of youth received the eucharist until supplies were exhausted. 

Blanca snaps a shot as the Pontiff drives past

Benedict told the crowd that they should not keep their faith private but participate fully in the life of their parishes back home.

“So do not keep Christ to yourselves! Share with others the joy of your faith,” he told the kids.

Saturday night, the sudden thunderstorm during a prayer vigil at the airfield forced Benedict to cut short his remarks and slightly injured six people when a tent collapsed.

Several temporary chapels set up on the field’s perimeter were also damaged.

Despite the rain and winds, Blanca and her cohorts spent the night in sleeping bags, tents and under tarps. She admitted being tired, but was excited as the vast crowd awoke to sunny skies Sunday.

Pope Benedict XIV

Organizers announced they were opening a new area at the airfield to accommodate late arrivals. The area was divided into sections, allowing the Popemobile to drive throughout the crowd — permitting everyone a glimpse of the Pontiff.

Excited, Blanca sent home photos as Benedict slowly drove past the Arkansas kids.

This is Benedict’s third World Youth Day, the gathering of young Catholics from around the world once every three years that was launched a quarter-century ago by Pope John Paul II. 

Weathering the rain

The Arkansas kids sent home descriptions that told of a combination week-long church camp, pilgrimage and rock concert, with hundreds of thousands of flag-waving kids visiting Madrid’s museums and monuments, posing for photos with new friends from across the globe. More than 100 countries were represented.

The Arkansas group was fortunate to stay in a very nice hotel. Every room in the Spanish capital is booked. Thousands of kids are staying in private homes — as well as in tents in parks.

Saturday night's storm

At the end of Sunday’s mass, Benedict officially announced that the next World Youth Day will take place in Rio, Brazil, in 2013 — a year early to avoid conflicts with the 2014 World Cup of soccer there — and said he hoped to attend. Delighted Brazilians in the crowd whooped and cheered at the announcement.

Blanca Beas, texting home: "Goin' to see the Pope!"

Will Blanca go to Brazil? She smiled hopefully.

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