Pope rallies priests as crowds flock to Fatima

Pope rallies priests as crowds flock to Fatima

Benedict arrived by helicopter from Lisbon where he warned Portugal's cultural elite of the "dramatic" consequences of increasing secularism. The pontiff's message to clergy shortly after his arrival in Fatima on Wednesday was to "take a firm stand" for their vocation at a time when the Catholic Church is being rocked by a succession of scandals over paedophile priests.

He told hundreds of priests, nuns and seminarians at the sanctuary's main church that dedication to their calling required "courage and trust", but that they should stand together in times of crisis to support each other. Huge crowds cheered the pope on his arrival at the shrine, one of Christianity's most visited, and up to a half million pilgrims are expected to attend a giant outdoor mass in Fatima on Thursday.

The Church has billed it the "heart" of his visit. Benedict, the third pope to visit Fatima, toured the shrine's vast esplanade, which turned into a sea of colour as the huge crowd waved yellow and white Vatican flags and hats, as well as the red and green of Portugal.

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