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Pope prays at Spain crash site

By CNN's Madrid Bureau Chief Al Goodman

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Pope Benedict XVI
Spain
Valencia
Roman Catholic Church

MADRID, Spain (CNN) -- Pope Benedict XVI arrived in Valencia, Spain on Saturday for a two-day visit in which his first event was a prayer ceremony at a metro station where an underground train accident last Monday killed 42 people.

The accident, which authorities initially indicated was due to excessive speed of the subway train, cast a somber preamble to the much-anticipated papal visit, the first to Spain by Benedict.

The purpose of the trip was to close the Fifth World Meeting of Families, a major gathering for the Roman Catholic Church which began earlier in the week in Spain's third largest city, Valencia, a thriving port on the Mediterranean Sea.

Benedict was met on the airport tarmac by Spain's King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia. He was also due to meet Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, whose Socialist government has upset the church with its social reforms that include the legalization, last year, of same-sex marriages.

The pope's visit comes three years after the final visit of Pope John Paul II, who made five visits to Spain, where most Spaniards identify themselves as Roman Catholics but where only about two in 10 regularly attend church services.

Speaking in Spanish at the airport, Benedict had words of comfort for the families of those who died in the subway accident and the wounded.

Later, he boarded the glass-enclosed "popemobile" vehicle and rode from the airport toward downtown Valencia, where thousands of people waved at the motorcade from behind barricades, amid tight security involving thousands of police officers.

Benedict's first stop had not been on the original schedule but was added after the subway accident. He stopped at the Jesus metro station, where he was met by Spain's Crown Prince Felipe, and his wife, Princess Letizia.

He then led, at street level outside the station entrance, a brief prayer ceremony for the victims of the subway accident which occurred underground on the tracks between the Jesus station and the Plaza de Espana station.

Also present at the ceremony were emergency workers, including firefighters, police officers, and medical personnel who assisted the victims after the accident on Monday.

Benedict then boarded his vehicle again to head for Valencia's Cathedral.

CNN's Madrid Bureau Chief Al Goodman contributed to this report

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