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Pope calls on Europe to 'open itself to God'

Sunday November 07, 2010 09:37:25 AM, DPA

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Santiago de Compostela (Spain): Pope Benedict XVI launched a strong appeal to Europe to reclaim its Christian roots instead of confining religion to the private sphere.

"Europe must open itself to God," the 83-year-old pontiff said Saturday at a mass he celebrated in the north-western town of Santiago de Compostela on the first day of his two-day visit to Spain.

"How can what is most decisive in life be confined to the purely private sphere or banished to the shadows?" Benedict asked the 7,000 faithful attending the mass in a country whose rapid secularisation has caused concern in the Vatican.

The conviction had grown in 19th century Europe that God was "man's antagonist and an enemy of his freedom", the pope observed. However, God is "the foundation and apex of our freedom", he said.

The mass was attended by 7,000 members of the public and invited guests, among them Crown Prince Felipe and his wife Letizia. Thousands in nearby streets followed the ceremony on giant screens.

Benedict said he had come as a pilgrim to Santiago de Compostela, one of the top Christian pilgrimage sites, the cathedral of which is believed to house the tomb of Saint James the Apostle.

The city is marking a Holy Year this year, as it does every time the day of Saint James, July 25, falls on a Sunday.

Drawing a steady stream of pilgrims since the Middle Ages, Santiago de Compostela has attracted nearly 260,000 of them this year. Not all of those making the pilgrimage, however, do so for religious reasons.

The most dedicated of the pilgrims trek nearly 800 km from the French side of the border.

The pope made his first visit to Spain in 2006, and is planning a third one for 2011, in a sign of the Vatican's concern over the growing secularisation of a country which was once a Catholic stronghold.

Only about half of young Spaniards now regard themselves as Catholics, polls show.

Socialist Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero is seen by the church as having accelerated the secularisation by adopting reforms starkly opposed by the Catholic hierarchy, such as homosexual marriage, speedier divorce and easier access to abortion.

Talking to journalists on the plane to Spain, the pope warned against the return of the kind of "aggressive" anti-clericalism that had erupted in Spain in the 1930s. In those years, leftists and anarchists burned churches and killed priests before and during the 1936-39 civil war.

Prior to the mass, Benedict visited the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, praying at the tomb which is believed to contain the remains of Saint James. He also embraced a statue of the apostle in the traditional pilgrim fashion.

After landing in Santiago de Compostela in the morning, Benedict addressed the public at the airport, stressing Spain's Christian roots and the importance of its saints.

Thousands of faithful undeterred by foggy weather waved Vatican and regional flags, throwing balloons and confetti as the pontiff drove to the cathedral in the popemobile.

The pope's visit was expected to draw a total of some 200,000 people and the city mounted its biggest security operation ever, mobilising more than 6,000 police.

Some 100 feminists demonstrated against the "patriarchy" of the church in Santiago de Compostela, while police blocked the access to the cathedral of dozens of trade unionists protesting against religion as "the opium of the people".

Meanwhile in Barcelona, hundreds of protestors distributed condoms.

After the mass in Santiago de Compostela, Benedict was scheduled to fly to Barcelona, where Sunday he is set to consecrate the modernist Sagrada Familia basilica.

Regarded as one of the world's architectural marvels, the Sagrada Familia was designed by the visionary architect and devout Catholic, Antoni Gaudi (1852-1926), whose canonisation is being considered by the Vatican.

Zapatero will not attend either of the papal masses, but the pope was planning to meet him privately at Barcelona airport before his departure.






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