Pope, in Spain, urges Europe to keep spiritual roots
SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA, Spain |
SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA, Spain (Reuters) - Pope Benedict, on a lightning trip to Spain, urged Europe on Saturday to re-discover God and its Christian heritage and also denounced the country's liberal abortion laws.
"Europe must open itself to God, must come to meet him without fear," he said in the sermon of a Mass for more than 20,000 people in the square of Santiago de Compostela, which has been a major pilgrimage destination since medieval times.
Spain's Roman Catholic Church, whose image was stained by its close relationship with Francisco Franco during his 36-year dictatorship, has clashed with the Socialist government of Prime Minister Jose Luis Zapatero over gay rights and abortion.
One of the main themes of Benedict's papacy -- and an aim of the Spanish trip -- has been what the Church calls the "re-evangelisation" of Europe, an attempt to urge people to return to their religious roots despite living in highly secularised societies.
Upon arrival on Saturday morning, the pope spoke of the need to defend "the most defenceless," and in the afternoon he decried "public silence with regard to the first and essential reality of human life" -- references to abortion.
"Blessed cross, shine always upon the lands of Europe!" he said at the afternoon Mass from a modern platform before the city's Romanesque 12th-century cathedral, believed to be the burial place of the St James the Apostle.
Santiago de Compostela, in northwestern Spain, has been a major pilgrimage destination for all Europeans since medieval times and is seen as a symbol of Europe's Christian heritage.
Abortion, illegal under Franco who died in 1975, was legalised in limited circumstances in 1985 but this year Zapatero's government allowed it on demand during the first 14 weeks of pregnancy. Minors can abort with one parent's consent.
Of Spain's 46 million people, 76 percent consider themselves Catholic but only 15 percent of those say they regularly attend church, according to a poll by the Sociological Research Centre.
BATTLE OVER GAY RIGHTS
One of the biggest battles between the Spanish government and the church has been over gay rights.
Spain in 2005 became the third country in the world to legalise gay marriage. The law, promoted by Zapatero despite fierce opposition from the church, allows married gay couples to adopt children, something which is anathema to the Vatican.
Gays and lesbians are planning a large "kiss-in" demonstration against the visit in Barcelona, where the pope will fly on Saturday night for the second leg of his visit.
But with Spain struggling to emerge from a prolonged recession and 20 percent unemployment, protests against the pope have concentrated not only on religious and social issues, but also on the millions of euros spent on security and logistics.
"I think it's bad, I mean really bad, to spend so much money on a guy who comes, gives a speech, stays an hour and leaves," Pedro Barral Gonzalez, 18, said in Santiago de Compostela.
(Writing by Philip Pullella, additional reporting by Fiona Ortiz and Nigel Davies; editing by Michael Roddy)
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