Pope's Swiss visit ends on a high note
Pope John Paul II has wrapped up a two-day visit to Switzerland after celebrating an open-air Mass before 70,000 people in Bern.
The Pope held talks with Swiss bishops and a meeting with former papal guards before flying back to Rome on Sunday evening.
The Pope’s first visit to the country in 20 years was in response to an invitation by young Swiss Catholics to attend a national youth gathering.
Earlier on Sunday tens of thousands of Swiss and other Europeans passed through tight security to take up their places for the Mass, which was held under blue skies on a large meadow next to the Bern arena.
Opening his sermon, the Pope greeted the Swiss bishops, Swiss president Joseph Deiss, and other members of the cabinet present. He then turned to the young people:
“Dear young friends, you should know that the Pope loves you, that he prays for you daily, that he counts on your support in spreading the Gospel, and that he wants to encourage you to step out confidently on the path of Christian life.”
John Paul, his voice stronger than when he spoke at the start of the youth event on Saturday night, said he asked God to make him “a witness of hope” to the young.
As the Pope arrived at the event, hundreds of young people rushed to the fences to cheer and wave at the “Popemobile”.
Minutes later loud cheers went up as John Paul, dressed in gold robes, was wheeled onto the stage.
Young Catholics from Switzerland’s four different language areas played a major role in Sunday’s service, addressing the crowd in German, French, Italian and Romansh, and leading the singing of hymns - including one specially composed for the youth event.
In a sign of Swiss unity, they brought jugs of water from the four major Swiss rivers for the Pontiff to bless. Clergy then took the water, which had been poured into one font, and sprinkled it over the crowds using branches.
Sunday’s Mass was the highlight of the two-day national Catholic youth gathering, which began on Saturday evening.
The opening ceremony incorporated music, contemporary dance and video clips to explore the theme “Get Up!” - a call to young people to take their faith seriously.
An estimated 14,000 Swiss and other Europeans took part in the event and gave a rapturous reception to the Pope who made an appearance half way through.
Speaking in German, French and Italian, John Paul said young people were the Church’s hope and he urged them to put their faith in Jesus Christ.
The Church needed the strength of youth, he said, “to spread the message of the Gospel and create a society based on true justice and love”.
The loud clapping and cheering that followed the Pope’s words indicated that for most of those in attendance he is still a respected leader, despite old age and ill health.
“This is a very special day for us,” said a 19-year-old woman attending the event with a group from her parish church. “We are very glad to meet the Pope.”
“He’s my hero,” echoed Christa from New Orleans in the United States. “Anything he has to say, I’ll just drink in.”
But not all of those attending were as uncritical of the Pope.
“I’m not here for the Pope,” said a young woman from Basel. “I’m here to meet other young people.”
swissinfo, Morven McLean
The Pope celebrated Mass in front of 70,000 people in Bern on Sunday.
The Mass was the culmination of a two-day trip to Switzerland, his first to the country in 20 years.
During his sermon - and in an address to a youth gathering on Saturday night - the Pope called on young people to spread the Gospel and help create a society based on justice and love.
Pope John Paul was due to return to Rome after meeting Swiss bishops and former members of the Swiss papal guard on Sunday evening.
In compliance with the JTI standards
More: SWI swissinfo.ch certified by the Journalism Trust Initiative
Contributions under this article have been turned off. You can find an overview of ongoing debates with our journalists here. Please join us!
If you want to start a conversation about a topic raised in this article or want to report factual errors, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.