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
"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
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
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
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
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
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