The punting Pontiff: Thousands line the canals of Venice as the Pope takes a gondola ride
Last updated at 2:39 AM on 9th May 2011
It is an essential part of any visit to the Italian city of Venice, a ride on a gondola along the famous canals.
And for Pope Benedict XVI, the best way to travel was by water after holding an open-air mass attended by more than 300,000 people.
The mass was the spiritual highlight of Benedict's two-day visit, the first by a pope to Venice since his predecessor John Paul II plied the canals in a gondola styled for Venice's ancient rulers.
Pope on a boat: Benedict XVI sits in a gondola in the Grand Canal during his visit to Venice
Follow me: The Pope, this time in a motor launch, is followed by many traditional boats and punts
Benedict too glided across the mouth of the Grand Canal in the same gondola, the Dogaressa, piloted by four gondolieri in white outfits and golden sashes. He was watched by thousands.
The Pope chatted quietly with Venice Cardinal Angelo Scola on the short journey, removing his white skull cap to prevent it from blowing away in the wind.
He was greeted with warm applause at the Our Lady of Good Health Basilica, where he met with cultural, artistic and economic leaders.
Earlier during the mass, Benedict spoke from beneath a huge dome constructed in the likeness of St. Mark's Basilica, replete with images of its golden mosaics of saints printed on cloth.
Please be seated: The Pope had earlier addressed a huge gathering of Italians in which he told them to be tolerant of immigrants
Crowd-pleaser: The Pontiff's boat travels under the Rialto bridge on the Grand Canal
Gold-laced crystal chalices handcrafted by glassblowers of the Venetian island of Murano were offered for use during the service, in which he spoke for the need for Italians to accept migrants into their nation.
He said: 'The churches created by Aquileia are called today to renew that ancient spiritual unity, in particular in light of the phenomenon of immigration and the new geopolitical circumstances.'
Italy has been struggling to cope with thousands of illegal migrants that have reached its shores in recent months often in rickety boats as they flee unrest spreading through northern Africa.
On Sunday, about 400 were rescued when their boat crashed against rocks at the port of Lampedusa, Italy's closest port.
The Pope's message of tolerance for immigrants appeared especially pointed as the visit takes place in the region of Veneto, one of the strongholds of the anti-immigration Northern League, although Venice itself has long been run by centre-left administrations.
Benedict greeted worshippers from his popemobile as he arrived for Mass, stopping briefly to kiss a swaddled infant who was passed to him from the crowd.
Protection: Security around the Pope was as tight as ever
Popular: About 300,000 people attended the mass celebrated by the Pope in Venice
His visit started on Saturday in Aquileia, a former Roman port city where the Patriarchal Basilica was erected during the Middle Ages.
Aquileia became one of the most influential dioceses of the era, establishing churches from present-day Hungary to Germany and northwestern Italy and uniting Latin culture with Germanic and Slavic peoples.
From Aquileia, Benedict travelled to St. Mark's Square, the heart of Venice, a city which for ages was the cultural crossroads between the East and West thanks to its strong merchant class.
He was greeted by around 25,000 well-wishers as he toured the arcade-lined square in an electric vehicle.
Benedict returned after Sunday mass to Venice's historic centre for lunch, followed by an assembly of bishops at St. Mark's Basilica.
The visit was held under tight security, with helicopters flying overhead during the mass and the Pope flanked by his personal security corps.
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