( dpa ) - Ten times more people than usual flocked to St Peter's Square in Rome in a show of support for Pope Benedict XVI at Sunday's regular Angelus prayers following the cencellation of his visit to a local university.
Banners praising him were held aloft and repeated rounds of applauded ensued in solidarity with the pontiff after the row over his cancelled visit to Rome's La Sapienza University last Thursday.
The Vatican estimated 200,000 people had gathered in fine weather on St Peter's Square and in the vicinity compared to the average 20,000 faithful and tourists.
Tensions surrounding the pontiff's university visit had escalated throughout Thursday and around 100 students staged a sit-in at La Sapienza's main hall.
Leftist students had threatened to disrupt Benedict's speech by playing loud rock music and a group of academics had signed a letter requesting that university rector Renato Guarini withdraw his invitation to the pontiff, whom they described as an enemy of free scientific research.
Several right-wing and left-wing Italian politicians heeded a call Sunday by churches in Rome to take the opportunity of the Angelus prayer and demonstrate for freedom of speech and in favour of the pontiff.
Benedict XVI referred to Thursday's events in his speech and encouraged all university staff and students to "always respect the opinions of others," adding, they should "seek the truth and the good" in a responsible and free manner.
The pope's speech and prayer were followed by three minutes of applause.