Pope Benedict XVI has warned countries of the danger of no longer being at the loving service of their citizens as he urged the faithful to bring Christ’s message of hope to all people.
During a two-day journey to a once-staunchly Catholic Spain, the Pope sought to bolster and renew people’s faith in God and convince an increasingly secular society that the Church wants dialogue, not confrontation.
The Pope’s November 6-7 visit, his 18th trip abroad, brought him first to one of Catholicism’s most popular and ancient pilgrimage sites, Santiago de Compostela, and then Barcelona, where he consecrated the Basilica of the Sagrada Familia.
During the Sunday Mass in which he blessed and anointed the altar of the church dedicated to the Holy Family of Nazareth, he said Christians must resist every attack on human life and promote the natural institution of the family.
Under the government of Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, who came to power in 2004, Spain has relaxed its divorce laws, eased restrictions on abortion, legalised same-sex marriage and allowed gay couples to adopt.
In his homily, the Pope praised the technical, social and cultural progress made over the years. However, he said, a country must also advance morally.
He asked that courts, legislative bodies and society respect and defend the sacred and inviolable life of the child from the moment of conception.
“For this reason, the Church resists every form of denial of human life and gives its support to everything that would promote the natural order in the sphere of the institution of the family” based on marriage between a man and a woman, he said.
More than 6,000 people filled the Church, which the Pope elevated to a minor basilica during the Mass. Another 50,000 people followed the event outside on 33 jumbo screens that dotted the surrounding streets and squares.
A “kiss-in” protest of about 200 people happened along the Pope motorcade route, as gay rights’ advocates kissed as the vehicle passed. At least 200,000 people lined the streets of the city to see the pope, according to city authorities.
The Church, begun in 1882 and expected to be finished by 2026, is the masterpiece of Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi, a Catholic whose Cause is under way.
The Pope sprinkled the main altar with holy water and rubbed chrism oil into the immense, roughly hewn block of rose-coloured stone. The basilica interior was bathed in golden light as Spanish bishops anointed some of the white treelike columns branching out to support the 200ft-high vaulted ceilings.
In response to journalists’ questions aboard the papal plane from Rome, the Pope said the minor basilica was a splendid example of the natural synthesis of tradition and novelty as well as of faith and art,
The “certain dissonance” between the world of art and religion “hurts both art and faith”, he said. Art and faith need to be brought back together again and be in dialogue, he said, because truth is expressed in beauty and in beauty one finds the truth.
He told reporters that in Spain the trend toward “anticlericalism and secularism” was especially marked in the 1930s, which created “a clash between society and faith that also exists today”.
He said faith and society must come together, too, and not be wedged apart.
While the papal trip was not an official state visit, the Pope was greeted upon landing in heavy fog in Santiago de Compostela by Prince Felipe and Princess Letizia of Asturias, Spanish cardinals and bishops, and government authorities from the local, regional and national level.
During an outdoor Mass celebrated in front of the 12th-century cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, the Pope said that when societies and governments were no longer at the loving service of all people, then arrogance and exploitation risk snuffing out true human development and fulfillment.
Only by loving and serving others like Jesus did, even with the simplest of gestures, will humanity regain a sense of happiness and hope, he said.
About 6,000 people filled the tiny square to capacity and 200,000 more were present in the small city, lining the streets and squares, according to local authorities. The cathedral bells tolled and pilgrims cheered and screamed “Viva el Papa!”
In his homily, the Pope said that a growing belief had taken hold of Europe over the past century suggesting that God was an “antagonist and enemy” of human freedom.
He said that as a result human dignity was threatened because it had been stripped of its “essential values and riches” and “the weakest and poorest” in the world are marginalised and left to die.
Even Jesus knew that when the rulers of nations no longer served the best interests of others, “there arise forms of arrogance and exploitation that leave no room for an authentic integral human promotion”, the Pope said.
The pope came as a pilgrim to commemorate the holy year of St James, which occurs every time the feast of St James – July 25 – falls on a Sunday.
To go on pilgrimage is a chance to “step out of ourselves in order to encounter God” and experience conversion, he said in remarks earlier in the day inside the city’s cathedral.
He took part in some of the traditional pilgrim rituals such as kneeling in prayer in the small crypt housing the apostle’s tomb, walking through the holy door and admiring the immense stone and silver-plated statue of St James that most pilgrims embrace.
The Pope also lit a large silver incense burner, called a “botafumeiro” in Galician. Nine men pulled on thick ropes attached to a pulley that made the large burner swing across the church at impressive speed.
After the Mass in Barcelona, the Pope visited Obra Nen Deu, a centre run by the Franciscan Sisters of the Sacred Heart for children with mental disabilities. The Pope urged Christians to keep offering financial support for charitable works even at a time of economic crisis.
Precisely because so many more people are facing economic hardship, Christians “must multiply concrete gestures of effective and constant solidarity,” he said.
New scientific and medical advancements must always respect human life and dignity, he said. Those who suffer from illness and physical or mental challenges need love and attention, not marginalisation because of their limitations, he said.
The Pope met in Barcelona with King Juan Carlos of Spain and Queen Sofia and held a brief private meeting with Prime Minister Zapatero at the Barcelona airport before taking off for Rome.
During a farewell ceremony on the tarmac, the Pope asked that faith in humanity’s common bond be revitalised in Europe and give rise to increased solidarity toward everyone, especially those in the greatest need.
He praised the “openness and hospitality” shown him by the Spanish people and noted that the preservation of their rich spiritual heritage was a sign of their love for their nation and its history and culture.