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70,000 Participate at Pope's Mass in Switzerland - 2004-06-06


Pope John Paul concluded a two-day visit to Switzerland Sunday, with an open-air mass in the capital Bern, which attracted an enthusiastic crowd of 70,000.

About 1,000 anti-terrorist police were on hand to ensure the pope's safety. Every one of the estimated 70,000 worshippers had to submit to a vigorous security check, before being allowed to enter the meadow where the mass took place.

But the security measures and delays could not dampen the enthusiasm of the audience. The crowd cheered wildly as the pope arrived in his Popemobile, weaving in and out of the crowd, and waving to all in sight.

A choir of young people broke into song as the pope, resplendent in gold and white ecclesiastical attire, was wheeled on to a huge stage to celebrate the mass.

His two-day visit to Switzerland was his first foreign trip in nine months. This pastoral visit followed a meeting in Rome with President Bush on Friday. During that brief encounter, the pope deplored the abuse of Iraqi prisoners by American soldiers and told the U.S. president that Iraq had to regain its sovereignty quickly.

While basking in the joyousness of his pastoral visit to Switzerland, the pope was told of the death of former President Ronald Reagan. A spokesman said the pope received the news "with sadness, and prayed for his eternal rest." He also recalled President Reagan's contributions in helping to bring down communism in Europe.

The pope worked closely with President Reagan in the 1980s to shore up the Solidarity movement in his native Poland, leading to the end of Soviet domination in Eastern Europe.

One high point of the mass was a request by four young people that the Pope bless water they had gathered from four rivers in Switzerland, representing the four linguistic areas of the country - French, German, Italian and Romansch.

After the papal blessing, several bishops sprinkled the faithful with the holy water, as the choir broke out in a Hallelulah chorus.

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