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Rehearsals and final touches as city awaits papal Mass

Finishing touches were last night being made to the arena where Pope Benedict XVI will say Mass to around 65,000 pilgrims today over a sound system more powerful than that used at T in the Park.

Technicians, florists, security staff, painters and cleaners were all working to prepare Bellahouston Park for the state visit of the pontiff.

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The 800-strong choir, made up from singers from Scotland’s eight dioceses, were coming together for the first time to rehearse at the venue, with sound engineers working to perfect the system that will amplify sounds ranging from the low tones of the papal Mass to the performance of Susan Boyle.

Peter Kearney, spokesman for the Catholic Church in Scotland, said: “In terms of lighting, what is being used is less that what would normally be used in a music festival setting but in terms of sound it is quite a bit more. The amplification needed is greater than what you would need at a music festival of equal size. At a music festival, performers start at quite a loud level but here it is different, we have the soft voice of the Pope to be heard. The Vatican is clear that it wants everybody to hear the Mass.”

Susan Boyle is due to perform How Great Thou Art and her hit I Dreamed a Dream at 3.45pm with Michelle McManus singing From a Distance around 7.20pm, shortly after the departure of the pontiff.

Mr Kearney stressed that despite the entertainment element of the Bellahouston Park event, it was first and foremost a Catholic Mass. “We are very conscious that when you strip it all down, this is a congregation of Catholics that are gathered together to celebrate Mass. Having said that, it is scaled up thousands of times. The basic shape of what happens is the same as what will happen in Catholic churches every day and every year.”

More than 30,000 yellow and white chrysanthemums, the Vatican colours, have been used to decorate the stage where the pontiff will stand close to 600 priests, and the choir.

During Mass, when Pope Benedict plans to deliver part of his sermon in Gaelic, around half of the 600 priests on stage will move into the crowds to deliver communion, with the help of 600 communion stewards who will guide the priests to dedicated points in the arena under umbrellas.

Father Alan McKenzie, director of liturgy for the Bellahouston Park wing of the state visit, said the organisation of the Mass had been a huge undertaking.

He said: “It’s been a challenge and my job started around six months ago when I sketched a rough guide out on a bit of paper. I am excited, I am hopeful and I am very tentative that it all goes well. It will be a marvellous day for Catholics in Scotland and I hope that it passes joyfully reverentially.”

Around 65,000 people are now expected to attend the Bellahouston Park event compared to the 100,000 first planned for.

Mr Kearney acknowledged that today’s state visit was being held in different times than 1982 when 220,000 gathered in the same park for the pastoral visit of John Paul II.

“The aim during planning was to make sure that everyone who wanted to attend could attend, but we were conscious that this is different to 1982 in quite a few ways, for example 1982 was the first time and no matter what happens it’s very difficult to recreate the excitement of a first of anything.”

The Scottish Government has confirmed that the yellow and white flag of Vatican City will fly at St Andrew’s House on Regent Road to mark the historic visit of Pope Benedict.

The pontiff is due to arrive in Edinburgh at 10am. Between 600 and 700 police officers will be on duty in the capital for the Pope’s journey along Princes Street. The Pope-mobile journey will end with a private lunch with Cardinal Keith O’Brien at his home in Morningside before he heads to Glasgow.

The practice run for his touchdown at Edinburgh Airport had to be performed without the red carpet yesterday, which began flapping in the wind.

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