Thunderous send-off for Pope


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The Independent Online

More than a million pilgrims braved weekend temperatures edging towards 40 degrees, sleeping in the open air at Madrid's Cuatro Vientos airport before Sunday Mass, the high point and conclusion of a four-day visit to Spain by Pope Benedict XVI for World Youth Day.

However, not even the Pope could stop a freak thunderstorm, which curtailed one of his keynote speeches a day earlier, and wrecked several mobile chapels containing 600,000 Hosts due to be used in yesterday's Mass.

His skullcap blown off in the downpour, the Pope managed to turn that setback on its head, pointing out that earlier prayers for rain had been answered. The Pope has taken a similarly diplomatic line all week during his meetings with the Prime Minister, Jose Luis Zapatero, and in his sermons. He made only the vaguest of criticisms of abortion – now fully legalised in Spain – and completely skirted around another potential minefield, Spain's recently introduced gay marriage laws.

But no amount of deft diplomacy could prevent mass protests, sometimes violent, over the €60m (£52.5m) the visit has cost.

The Spanish Church is keen to exploit the momentum caused by the Pope's visit, and the Archbishop of Madrid has already said he hopes one result will be half a million new marriages.