Madrid has been deluged by Catholic youths attending a festival of the faithful held every three years and to be attended by the Pope, despite opposition in Spain to the cost of his visit with the country mired in an economic crisis.
Some 450,000 young Catholic pilgrims are registered for World Youth Day, which continues in Madrid until Sunday, but more than twice that number are expected to show up for the rock festival-like event that will be attended by Pope Benedict XVI.
In the fiery Spanish summer heat, each registered youth will receive a sun hat, fan, alcohol-free beer, and a crucifix for â€œspiritual ills,â€ for a fee of between $43 and $300, Agence France-Presse reports.
And in a special festival blessing, Catholic priests have been empowered to forgive the sin of abortion during the week-long festivities.
Abortion is a sin normally punished by excommunication in the Catholic church, but this week church officials have said that any individual attending World Youth Day events who confesses to having had an abortion will be forgiven and welcomed back to the church, Reuters reports.
“This (concession) is to make it easier for the faithful who attend the World Youth Day celebrations to obtain the fruits of divine grace,” Madridâ€™s archdiocese said in a statement posted online.
Meanwhile, a man was arrested in Madrid on suspicion of planning a gas attack against demonstrators protesting the high cost of the Popeâ€™s visit to taxpayers in the debt-stricken Spanish capital.
The suspect, a chemistry student in Spain who is a Mexican national, was a volunteer of the papal visitâ€™s organizing committee, CNN reports.
Spain is suffering a deep economic crisis, with nearly 21 percent unemployment, and the cost of the pope’s visit has been top news, CNN says.
The last World Youth Day was held in Sydney, Australia.