It was stupendous—almost 2 million strong—as this story from Catholic Culture reports.
“Pope Benedict XVI challenged nearly 2 million young people to be “apostles of the 21st century,” as he closed World Youth Day (WYD) ceremonies in Madrid on August 21.
“There is no reason to lose heart,” the Pope told WYD participants. He assured them that their contemporaries will respond to the Gospel message, as idealistic young people invariably respond “when one proposes to them, in sincerity and truth, an encounter with Jesus Christ.” In the final remarks of his 4-day visit to Spain, the Pontiff said that the WYD participants would return to their own homes as “missionaries of the Gospel.”
“Organizers of the 26th international WYD celebration had expected up to 1 million participants. But nearly twice that many young people crowded onto the airfield outside Madrid where the Pope presided at a concluding Mass on Sunday.
“As he prepared to board his plane for the return flight to Rome, Pope Benedict thanked all those who had helped to organize the event. He praised the host country, Spain, for its hospitality as well as its long tradition of Catholic faith.
“That Spanish hospitality had been blemished by angry public protests against the Pope’s visit, which occasionally erupted into violence. The anti-papal demonstrators complained that the costs of the papal visit were excessive, particularly at a time of economic difficulties in Spain. Church official replied that the costs of the WYD ceremonies were covered by the income from participants and corporate sponsors. For the government of Spain, the major expenses were for security: expenses that were sharply increased because of the unruly demonstrations.
“One of the most dramatic moments of the 26th WYD came on Saturday evening, August 20, when a violent thunderstorm drenched the young people who had gathered for a prayer vigil at the Madrid airport, and forced the Pope to cut short a talk on the dignity of marriage and the family. Despite the pouring rain and wild winds, which knocked out the public-address system, the Pope refused to leave the site, insisting that he would stay to lead the young crowed in Eucharistic adoration. After the storm passed, he congratulated the young pilgrims for their perseverance.”