The Queen spoke as she officially opened the sixth Senedd term in the Welsh Parliament.
The Queen commended the spirit of the people of Wales during the pandemic as she officially opened the sixth term of the Senedd on Thursday.
In her first visit to Wales in five years, she told the Welsh Parliament everyone owes a “debt of gratitude” to those who have served their communities.
She was accompanied by the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall.
A 21-gun salute sounded in Cardiff Bay marked the Queen’s arrival in the city.
She was greeted at the steps of the Senedd by pupils from nearby Mount Stuart Primary School.
People nominated as Covid community champions for how they helped others were among the guests, as well as a family from Afghanistan living in Wales who fled the Taliban.
Presiding Officer Elin Jones called the ceremony a celebration “of the diverse communities” across the country.
The event marks the ceremonial start of the term since the last Senedd election, which returned Labour First Minister Mark Drakeford to power.
After meeting Mr Drakeford and Ms Jones, mace bearer Shaz Khan led her into the debating chamber. The mace was placed in its sconce in the Senedd to signify the official opening.
As she arrived Welsh National Opera’s (WNO) youth branch performed traditional Welsh folk song Ar Lan yr Môr.
The Queen said: “We all owe a debt of gratitude to those who have risen so magnificently to the challenges of the last 18 months, from key workers to volunteers who have done so much to serve their communities.
“They are shining examples of the spirit for which the Welsh people are so renowned, a spirit which I have personally encountered so many times.
“It is a source of pleasure that both the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall, together with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, have had homes in Wales, and experienced its very special sense of community.
“The Welsh people have much to be proud of,” she added.
She said the decision to change the name of the institution from National Assembly for Wales last year “demonstrates your status as a national parliament”.
Its move to virtual meetings at the start of the pandemic was also praised.
“The fact that all parties showed a determination that you should continue to meet is commendable, and testament to your commitment to scrutinise the government, on behalf of the people of Wales.”
In his speech, Mr Drakeford said the opening of the sixth session was “a time for all of us to look to the future”.
“People from all corners of Wales, including those most distant from this building, have chosen 60 members to represent our collective ambitions and the a course for our country, in the years ahead,” he said.
“I’m sure that we will argue and disagree about what is best for Wales, but always in this Senedd with the interests of the, we represent at the centre of everything that we do.”
Presiding Officer Elin Jones opened the ceremony in the chamber: “We thank all the people of Wales, health care workers in particular, for their extraordinary efforts during this time.”
She said work in the next term “will undoubtedly focus on recovering from the Covid pandemic, but there will also be many other challenges and opportunities, from playing a leading role in tackling climate change to promoting equality and fairness for all in Wales”.
In the chamber Eleri Griffiths and Oliver Edwards Davies of the Welsh Youth Parliament read a poem called Ein Llais.
Written by children from 24 primary schools, it spoke about their hopes for the future.
On her arrival the Queen met Plaid Cymru leader Adam Price, senior Welsh Conservative Paul Davies and Welsh Liberal Democrat MS Jane Dodds.
Royal harpist Alis Huws performed for the guests in the Senedd chamber.
After the ceremony finished the Queen met the Covid community champions – people nominated by Members of the Senedd (MSs) for their work during Covid.
Tân Cerdd, a group which includes black Welsh artists, performed original song called Ymuno.
After the queen left the Prince of Wales remained to take part in a reception meeting a family recently relocated from Afghanistan.
Mace bearer Shaz Khan, from Cardiff, who is part of the Senedd’s security team, said he was “really very ecstatic” to take part: “It is just once in a lifetime, I’m very proud.”
All 60 members of the Senedd were invited to the ceremony – the first time that all were allowed to be present in the chamber since the pandemic took hold.
Covid has delayed this year’s opening ceremony, which has been held soon after an election for every new term since the opening of the National Assembly in 1999.
It is not like the Queen’s Speech in the Houses of Commons where she lays out the government’s legislative programme; it is purely ceremonial.
But it does emphasise the role of devolution within the British constitution.
The event is not required by law, but has become convention to mark the start of a new term after a Senedd election.
A key part is the mace, which was donated to the Senedd in 2006 by the parliament of New South Wales in Australia.
It is the first time it has been held since the law-making body changed its name to Senedd Cymru/Welsh Parliament.