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Last Updated: Saturday, 2 April, 2005, 20:14 GMT 21:14 UK
Pope's visit to Wales remembered
By John O'Sullivan

Pope John Paul II

Many Catholics across Wales will recall the day the late Pope John Paul II visited Wales, celebrating two Masses.

Crowds, hundreds of thousands strong, gathered in Cardiff on 2 June 1982 to see the pontiff become the first reigning Pope to visit Wales.

Addressing 150,000 people at Pontcanna Fields, the Polish-born pontiff began the Mass in Welsh.

The Pope's message: "Bendith Duw arnoch" - "the blessing of God be on you" - was received with applause.

The visit took place amid the highest security, following an attempt on the Pope's life the year before.

Around 20 miles of roads were closed in and around the city ahead of the Pope's final leg of a six-day visit to Britain.

The airport was closed for the day and Pontcanna Fields had been sealed off the night before.

All-night vigil

But an impromptu walkabout set the atmosphere of the day at the then Cardiff-Wales airport, which delayed the start of the service.

The Pope was then given a rousing welcome when he arrived in the city itself.

The welcome song had been composed for the occasion by folk singer and broadcaster Frank Hennessy.

Crowds in Ninian Park
A youth mass was held at Cardiff's Ninian Park stadium

He led the singing with David Burns, whose family came from Newtown, known as Cardiff's Little Ireland - an area which was steeped in Catholic history before it was demolished in the 1960s.

There was great emotion among the crowd as the Popemobile came into view after crossing the Bailey bridge specially built by the army, across the River Taff.

The arrangements for the event had turned the papal Mass into an all-night vigil.

The crowd had been advised to be in their places before 0800 GMT - two hours before the mass was due to start.

Thousands from north and west Wales from the West Country and the London area, from the Midlands and from Ireland, had started their pilgrimage to Cardiff the previous evening.

Carnival atmosphere

At dawn, the massive job of getting more than 4,000 sick, handicapped and elderly people to Pontcanna started.

They, and the 4,000 voluntary helpers, were carried by special buses and ambulances from every part of south Wales.

From 0400 GMT there had been a carnival atmosphere throughout Cardiff as visitors arrived by a hundred special trains and hundreds of coaches.

For four hours before the Pope arrived, the crowd was entertained with music and communal hymns.

Applause transformed the Mass when the Pope spoke in Welsh.

Freedom of city

He also turned to Welsh near the end of his sermon about the Holy Eucharist when he said "Bobl annwyl Cymru. Byddwch ffyddlon i Grist yn awr. Ef yw eich Gobaith." ("Dear People of Wales. Be faithful to Christ now. He is our hope.")

Representatives of various organisations handed gifts to the Pope, including a miner's lamp, a book of Welsh poems, Welsh pottery, Welsh slate and an etching on steel.

Thirty children, 15 from the Cardiff archdiocese and the rest from other parts of Wales, received their first communion from the Pope.

During the bidding prayers, there were rolls of thunder and by communion torrential rain.

As the Pope was slowly driven past the crowds at the end of the mass, thousands sang "We'll Keep a Welcome in the Hillside".

During the lunch break at Cardiff Castle, the freedom of the city was awarded to the Pope by the Lord Mayor, Phil Dunleavy.

After lunch, thousands lined the streets to watch the pontiff's journey to Ninian Park, the home of Cardiff City FC.

Thousands of young people from all over Britain were at the ground for the youth service.

The banners of Wales, England and Poland greeted the Pope as well as chants of "John Paul, John Paul" from a crowd which had travelled all night, or slept in schools or in nearby fields to be there.

Ending his six-day visit, the Pope called for the young people of Britain, including the 33,000 at Ninian Park, to launch a crusade of prayer.




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