Departing pope urges "new vigour" for faith in Europe
Pope Benedict XVI called Sunday for Europe to reinvigorate its Roman Catholic faith, wrapping up a two-day visit to Spain where he preached against a tide of liberal reforms.
"May this faith find new vigour on this continent and become a source of inspiration," he said before departing for Rome from Barcelona's El Prat airport.
"May it give rise to an attitude of solidarity towards all, especially towards those communities and nations in greater need," said the pope, seen off by dignitaries including Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia.
The 83-year-old pontiff visited Spain's holiest city Santiago de Compostela and consecrated Barcelona's Sagrada Familia church on a mission to defend the faith against gay marriage, fast-track divorce and easier abortion.
He called for Europe to remember its Roman Catholic heritage, starting his visit in Santiago de Compostela, where the remains of Saint James have drawn pilgrims from afar for more than 1,000 years.
"The paths that cross Europe on the way to Santiago differed greatly, each marked by its own language and its particular characteristics, but the faith was the same," Benedict said in his farewell, attended by hundreds of the faithful waving flags in the Vatican colours of yellow and white.
"There was a common language, the Gospel of Christ. In any place pilgrims could feel at home. Beyond national differences, they knew that they were members of one great family to which the other pilgrims and people along the way also belonged."
The Catholic Church in Spain was an all-powerful presence in the dictatorship of General Francisco Franco.
But after the return to democracy following his death in 1975 came an end to restrictions on politics, behaviour and sexual mores.
Under Zapatero's Socialist government, the country has gone much further, introducing liberal reforms that place it on the front-line of social change in Europe.
In eight years the proportion of Spaniards who describe themselves as Roman Catholic has dropped to 73 percent from 80 percent and those attending weekly mass to 13 percent from 20 percent.
© 2010 AFP