.- In some of the most extraordinary scenes witnessed at any recent Papal event, Pope Benedict XVI braved thunder, lighting and driving rain to tell young people to stay close to Christ as they make their way in life.
“Be proud of the gift of faith which you have received, as it will illumine your life at every moment,” said the Pope to over a million young people gathered for a prayer vigil at Cuatro Vientos air base on the outskirts of Madrid.
“Christ alone can respond to your aspirations. Let yourselves be seized by God, so that your presence in the Church will give her new life!”
Pope Benedict’s address had barely started, however, when a ferocious lightning storm enveloped the entire event, threatening its very continuation.
“We are going to wait for a few more minutes, counting on your prayers, and see if this stops,” said an event organizer over the public address system.
Young pilgrims got drenched while Pope Benedict took shelter from the wind and rain beneath a large white umbrella, held fast by his master of ceremonies Father Guido Marini.
The Pope remained remarkably serene amid the howling gales, although his hair was repeatedly buffeted by the wind - as was his prepared text, which subsequently was abandoned.
But the storm didn’t seem to dampen the enthusiasm of young pilgrims, as many simply chose to dance and sing in the downpour.
And minutes later, and as the repeated chant of “We are the Pope’s Children” went up to the heavens, the rain ceased.
“The storm? Wow. It was a blast,” said a very wet 17-year-old Matt Horn, originally from Florida, to CNA. He added: “I guess it’s a sign from God to wash away our sins and now that it’s cleared we’re clear of our sins for now - and hopefully that means that we’ll now listen to the Pope and be his children as the chant says.”
“Thank you for your joy and resistance. Your strength is bigger than the rain,” said Pope Benedict as the rain let up. “The Lord sends you lots of blessings with the rain.”
In a shortened speech, the Pope went on to urge the young people to use tonight’s prayer vigil to grow closer to Jesus Christ as they discern their paths.
“Dear young people, in these moments of silence before the Blessed Sacrament, let us raise our minds and hearts to Jesus Christ, the Lord of our lives and of the future,” said the Pope to English speaking pilgrims.
“May he pour out his Spirit upon us and upon the whole Church, that we may be a beacon of freedom, reconciliation and peace for the whole world.”
A sense of peace descended on the crowd as the Mass choir sang Mozart's Eucharistic hymn “Ave Verum Corpus,” before Pope Benedict led all present in the service of Benediction.
Movingly, most of the million-strong congregation chose to kneel in the mud before the Blessed Sacrament.
In an impromptu address before leaving, the Pope told the young pilgrims that they had “lived an adventure together” this evening, and thanked them for the sacrifice they were making with their all-night prayer vigil.
And he drew one further lesson from this evening’s storms.
“Like tonight, with Christ you can face the trials of life. Do not forget. Thank you.”