By Hilary White
ROME, May 17, 2010 (LifeSiteNews.com) – The Vatican police estimate that over 150,000 people packed into St. Peter’s Piazza this Sunday for the pope’s weekly Regina Caeli prayers, to show their support for and “solidarity” with Pope Benedict, who has been accused in the media of helping to cover up clerical sexual abuse. The rally was organized by a coalition of 68 lay organizations and Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, the head of the Italian bishops conference.
“We have gathered here today because we want to be seen to stand in support of Pope Benedict XVI, just in the way that children would do with their father,” an official told the crowd over the loudspeakers.
“Thank you for your presence and confidence,” said a beaming Pope Benedict to the crowd. He thanked the bishops, lay groups, and national parliamentarians present for their “warm and nourishing presence” and the “beautiful and spontaneous expressions of faith and solidarity.”
The rally, he said, shows “the great affection and profound closeness of the Church and the Italian people to the pope and your priests who daily take care of you.”
Reiterating comments that he made on the way to Portugal last week, Benedict said, “The real enemy to fear and to fight is sin, spiritual evil – which at times, unfortunately, also infects members of the Church.”
Organizers had draped Bernini’s Colonnade with huge banners reading, “Together with the pope” and “Your holiness, you are not alone, the whole church is with you.” In addition, groups had arrived with dozens of homemade signs and banners reading, “Peter is here and we are with him,” and “One Heart and One Soul, [the town of] Rio Saliceto is With You.”
Benedict continued, “It is wonderful to see this great crowd in St Peter’s Square, just as it was very moving for me to see the huge crowds at Fatima, a crowd which, at the school of Mary, prayed for the conversion of hearts.
“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.”
He assured the crowd that he had been comforted by the “beautiful and spontaneous show of faith and solidarity.” He said, “Thank you for your presence and trust. All of Italy is here.”