Atheists, gays, unions set to condemn Pope's visit

4th November 2010, Comments 0 comments

Atheists, gay rights activists, unions and dozens of diverse groups opposed to the visit to Spain this weekend by Pope Benedict XVI are taking to the streets in protest.

The pontiff travels to Santiago de Compostela, one of Roman Catholicism's holiest sites, on Saturday before continuing to Barcelona to consecrate Antonio Gaudi's iconic unfinished Sagrada Familia church.

Church leaders are touting the visit as a defence of their most sacred beliefs from an onslaught of socially progressive legislation by Spain's Socialist government, such as abortion reforms, gay marriage and fast-track divorce.

But many in Spain who back a secular society are angry over the visit, and the reportedly high cost of it.

The first major demonstration is set for Thursday evening in Barcelona's old town, called by a platform known as "Jo no t'espero" ("I'm not waiting for you" in the Catalan language), which groups many organisations opposed to the visit.

The platform has produced thousands of placards and stickers showing a papal mitre surrounded by a red warning triangle.

The rally is aimed at "showing the pluralism of Catalan society" and above all "to show the diversity of morals" in the northeastern region, said the head of the Progressive and Laical Movement, one of the groups that make up the platform.

They are also calling for "transparency" from the regional and municipal governments over the costs of the papal visit.

The CGT union has also called a protest for Saturday at 3pm (1400 GMT) in front of the cathedral.

The union -- which cancelled a transport strike called for Sunday -- is angry over media reports that said the national government would have to pay 14.5 million euros (20 million dollars) to meet costs linked to the trip.

Gay rights activists are also hoping to stage a mass kiss-in in Barcelona.

"We are hoping for a crowd of people of the same sex who will kiss each other for two minutes in front of the pope," said one of the organisers, Marylene Carole.

"The reason is to show our unhappiness with an institution which for a long time has been against the sexual and emotional rights of many people who do not practice exclusively reproductive sex or people who do not love each other in the way that the institution thinks is right," Carole said in response to email questions.

Early Friday morning, an association of gay and lesbian Christians, ACGIL, has also organised "an act of reflection and prayer on the type of papacy that the Church needs in the new millenium."

Its head, Angel Llorent, said those attending the event, at the basilica of Santa Maria del Pi, will reflect on "the reforms that are needed to the current hierarchical system of the Church for it have credibility in the world and among the faithful."

"We will also address the issue of gay marriage," he said.

And the Atheists of Catalonia association "hopes to fill the square and some of the surrounding streets" of the Sagrada Familia on Sunday, according to its president, Albert Riba.

© 2010 AFP

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