Large crowds demonstrate support for Pope

St Peter's Square leading on to Via della Conciliazione

St Peter's Square leading on to Via della Conciliazione

More than 150,000 people filled St Peter's Square and the Via della Conciliazione leading to the Vatican yesterday, in a  huge show of support for Pope Benedict.

Many carried banners saying: "Together with the Pope" and "Your Holiness, you are not Alone, the whole Church is with you".

The demonstration was organised by the Italian Episcopal Conference, two days after Pope Benedict's return from a four-day visit to Portugal which was  also marked by huge crowds.

"Today you show the great affection and profound closeness of the Church and the Italian people to the pope and your priests... because, in the commitment to spiritual and moral renewal, we can always do better," Benedict said, addressing the crowd from the balcony of his Vatican apartment.

"The real enemy to fear and to fight is sin, spiritual evil, which at times, unfortunately, also infects members of the Church," he said.

Tens of thousands of pilgrims, made up of many Catholic associations, arrived in Rome aboard hundreds of chartered buses and special trains.

"We came from all over Italy to Saint Peter's to express our affection in a moment that is so difficult for him and the entire Church," said Paola Dal Toso, head of one of the associations that organised the rally.

Marta, a young teacher from Florence said: "This is a demonstration of solidarity. As young people we want to express our love, loyalty and support to the Holy Father, who has such a great responsibility caring for the whole Church."

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