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Pope decries
collapse of marriages

Pope decries
collapse of marriages

Pope Benedict XVI decried the collapse of marriages, telling tens of thousands of young Catholics Saturday that he was praying that a crisis in traditional family values doesn't become an ''irreversible failure.'' Benedict urged an estimated 300,000 young pilgrims who trekked to Loreto for a weekend rally to have faith that they can succeed in marriage even though so many others had failed. ''There is so much failure of love all around us!'' Benedict told the crowd, camped out on a vast, dusty field. ''How many couples don't succeed and separate? How many families end up in pieces? How many kids, even among you, have seen their parents separate and divorce?''

The weekend festival, designed to reinvigorate Italian Catholic youth, coincides with the Catholic Church's ''Save Creation Day,'' and has a decidedly eco-friendly theme. Participants were given bright orange thermal packs made out of recycled nylon, containing their food for the weekend and biodegradable plates. They were also given a hand-cranked battery charger, three bags for recycling trash, and prayer books for the Sunday Mass made out of recycled paper.

The Vatican has been going greener under Benedict, installing photovoltaic cells on the roof of its main auditorium to convert sunlight into electricity and joining a reforestation project aimed at offsetting its CO2 emissions.

Benedict's predecessor, Pope John Paul II, frequently spoke out about the need to care for God's creation. On Saturday, Benedict listened to the young people's stories about their broken homes and living on the periphery of society and assured them that he and the entire Roman Catholic Church were praying ''that the crisis that is affecting families today doesn't become an irreversible failure.'' Benedict has often bemoaned the collapse of family values and has spoken of the need to support ''traditional'' marriage between a man and a woman.

The Italian bishops conference--which organized the rally--has mounted a major campaign to support traditional families and oppose proposed Italian legislation giving same-sex couples new rights.

Loreto is famous for the Holy House, a simple stone cottage that Catholic tradition says was the home in Nazareth where the Virgin Mary grew up and received the annunciation. Legend has it that angels miraculously transported the structure from the Holy Land, where it had come under threat during the turmoil of the Crusades, and brought it to the Loreto area in central Italy near the Adriatic coast in 1294.

Benedict was to pray before the shrine late Saturday, and then return to the vast campground to celebrate Mass on Sunday morning. Many of the 300,000 youths planned to spend the night camped out on the field, where singer Andrea Bocelli and a host of others were entertaining them through the night.

Loreto was dear to Pope John Paul II, and was the site of his final pilgrimage, in September 2004. The Loreto meeting was the first of three annual meetings sponsored by Italian bishops and is in many ways a warm-up for World Youth Day, to be held in Sydney next July 15-20. The 80-year-old Benedict is expected to journey to Australia for the event. (AP)

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