Tens of thousands to pack St. Peter's Square in support of Pope

.- Answering the call from the Italian Bishops' Conference-promoted National Consultancy of Lay Aggregations (CNAL), thousands of people are planning on attending the Regina Coeli prayer in St. Peter's Square on May 16. The initiative aims to provide a visible sign of support, affection and gratitude for the Pope's ministry.

On April 14, CNAL, composed of 67 Italian ecclesial movements and associations, called upon its members and all people who wish to show their solidarity with the Pope to participate in the mid-day Marian prayer in St. Peter's Square this coming Sunday.

As of Friday, the president of the Italian Bishops' Conference (CEI), Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, CEI secretary general, Bishop Mariano Crociata, and Rome's mayor Gianni Alemanno were all slated to attend.

In addition to these leaders, CNAL expects "several tens of thousands" to come from member associations, parishes, dioceses, schools and universities.

The Italian bishops' news agency, SIR, has reported a stream of declarations from associations across the nation announcing they will participate in support of the Holy Father. Church-based organizations such as the Italian Movement for Life, the International Union of Guides and Scouts of Europe and the Renewal of the Holy Spirit, which has promised 10,000 participants, have pledged their presence.

Secretary General of CNAL, Paola Dal Toso, stated on Wednesday that those turning out in the square will not be limited to associations. "We expect groups, simple lay faithul or individual families to come from all of Italy," she said.

The original call for participation says that by coming together on Sunday, the faithful wish to bring themselves "visibly around Benedict XVI as sons with their father, desiring to sustain him in his challenging ministry, expressing affection and gratitude to him for his passion for Christ and for all of humankind."

Following the Regina Coeli prayer with the Pope, Cardinal Bagnasco will preside over Mass for participants in the Roman Basilica of St. Paul Outside-the-Walls.

Accompanying the call to St. Peter's Square this weekend is a text message initiative created by the television program “In His Image” from Italy’s RAI television. The program allows people to send a text message to Pope Benedict XVI.

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