Pope arrives in Spain saying economy not just for profit

18th August 2011, Comments 1 comment

Pope Benedict XVI called Thursday for the economy to work for people, not profit, as he landed in crisis-torn Spain where protesters decried the cost of his visit.

He delivered the message hours after protesters clashed with pilgrims and riot police in Madrid as they vented fury over the expense of World Youth Day celebrations, which the pope will lead.

"The economy cannot function as a self-regulated economy," the leader of the world's estimated 1.2 billion Roman Catholics told journalists accompanying him in the papal plane from Rome.

"Man must be at the economy's centre, which is not profit but solidarity," he said.

The pope landed in the sweltering capital for the rock festival-style celebration, lavish religious festivities lasting to Sunday that have lured more than a million pilgrims from around the world.

The pontiff was greeted by King Juan Carlos I and Queen Sofia before parading in his popemobile through Madrid's streets to be chased by relay runners and cheered by masses of followers.

In the evening, the papal cortege heads to the central Plaza Cibeles for a welcoming ceremony complete with an air force fly-over painting the colours of the Vatican and Spanish flags in the sky.

Huge speakers blared out pop music in the city as hundreds of thousands of the pope's fans waited in the heat in floppy hats, with backpacks containing alcohol-free beer and fans.

But the party atmosphere was shattered hours earlier when thousands of anti-papal protesters and hundreds of young Roman Catholics hurled insults at each other in the central square Puerta del Sol.

Lines of riot police separated the two sides late Wednesday.

Protesters chanted: "God yes, Church no"; "Not with my taxes"; "We are not the pope's youth"; and "I am a sinner, sinner, sinner."

Some taunted the faithful shouting: "Nazi, nazi." In an interview before he was elected pope in 2005, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger said he was an unwilling participant in the Hitler Youth movement.

"Long live the pope", "We are the pope's youth," cried the pilgrims, some of whom sang "hallelujah" and sat on the ground and prayed.

Police finally moved in with batons swinging to dislodge the anti-pope demonstrators from Puerta del Sol.

They arrested seven people for "assaults on people in authority," a national police spokeswoman said Thursday. Eleven people were lightly injured, she said.

More than 100 protest groups took part, uniting many causes, including those seeking a change in the Church's attitude to gay rights and those fighting for a clearer separation of Church and state.

The outcry that has struck a chord with many -- including some priests -- is over the official 50.5-million-euro ($73-million) price tag, excluding the cost of police and security, of the August 16-21 celebrations.

Spain's economy has been one of the worst hit by the global economic downturn and its output has grown by only 0.2 percent in the last quarter. Nationwide unemployment stands at more than 20 percent while youth unemployment is running at more than 45 percent.

Some protesters argue the real cost to taxpayers of the pope's visit is more than 100 million euros including the policing, cleaning and discounts such as half-price bus fares.

Organisers, though, say most of the cost will be covered by a registration fee from the assembled pilgrims, and the celebration will be a massive tourist boost for Spain.

The Church has opened 200 white confessionals in the form of boat sails along the main thoroughfare through Madrid's Retiro park.

The pope will hold a "Prayer Vigil" on Saturday evening at an airbase southwest of the capital, where the pilgrims will spend the night on an esplanade the size of 48 football pitches.

Pope Benedict will celebrate mass there on Sunday morning at a white altar almost 200 metres (660 feet) long in front of a wave-shaped stage and under a giant parasol "tree", made of interwoven golden rods.

© 2011 AFP

1 Comment To This Article