Bad weather interrupts pope's speech in Spain

Sat Aug 20, 2011 5:49pm EDT
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By Judy MacInnes and Sonya Dowsett

MADRID (Reuters) - A torrential rainstorm forced Pope Benedict to abandon a speech to hundreds of thousands of young people gathered at an aerodrome outside Madrid on Saturday.

Driving rain and wind forced the organisers of the event to recommend Benedict halt his address after delivering just a few opening words of welcome.

"A massive storm got up and officials halted the programme as it was impossible for the pope to continue battling against the elements," a witness said.

"But people were surprisingly calm and stayed where they were, with many welcoming the break in the weather after baking in the afternoon heat ... Besides there was nowhere to run for shelter in this huge open arena."

In a text of the speech released in advance on Saturday, Benedict had written that marriage must be between a man and a woman and called for the respect for life, in apparent criticism of Spain's legalisation of gay marriage and abortion.

In Madrid's city center, gay activists staged a protest to defend same sex partnerships, the latest in a series of demonstrations against the visit.

The pope's speech had been intended for young people gathered outside the Spanish capital for an all-night prayer vigil that will culminate on Sunday with the end of the Catholic Church's World Day of Youth.

Before the storm hundreds of pilgrims had been treated for dizzy spells because of 40-degree heat.   Continued...

<p>Priests shelter themselves from the rain underneath umbrellas as they leave after a prayer vigil at the Cuatro Vientos aerodrome as part of World Youth Day festivities in Madrid, August 20, 2011. REUTERS/Susana Vera</p>