Pope tells Europe to open itself to God

6th November 2010, Comments 0 comments

Pope Benedict XVI pleaded Saturday for Europe to open itself to God, lamenting as a tragedy a belief on the continent that God is an enemy of freedom.

The 83-year-old pontiff is struggling to halt a retreat from the Church in Europe, where Spain is on the front line of social shifts such as easier abortion, fast-track divorce and gay marriage.

"Europe must open itself to God, must come to meet him without fear," he told 7,000 pilgrims from a vast white stage, dressed in a sweeping zigzag of purple flowers, at a giant open-air mass in Santiago de Compostela's Plaza Obradoiro.

"We need to hear God once again under the skies of Europe," said the pontiff, draped in gold-embroidered scarlet vestments, after walking to the stage clutching the golden, papal cross.

"Tragically, above all in nineteenth century Europe, the conviction grew that God is somehow man's antagonist and an enemy of his freedom," said the spiritual leader of more than one billion Roman Catholics.

As a result there had been an attempt to obscure the "true biblical faith" of God.

"The Europe of science and technology, the Europe of civilization and culture, must be at the same time a Europe open to transcendence and fraternity with other continents, and open to the living and true God, starting with the living and true man."

Santiago de Compostela, where the sprawling 12th century cathedral holds the purported remains of Saint James, is a fittingly symbolic venue to launch a battle for Christian values.

The remains of Saint James, later to be known as the Slayer of the Moors, became a symbol to rally eighth-century Christian Spain, then pinned down by the Muslim Moors to the northern strip of the peninsula.

Describing himself as a "pilgrim among pilgrims," the pontiff said Jesus had warned that a lack of self-giving gave rise to arrogance and exploitation, and he called on young people to take the path shown by the Gospels.

"In renouncing a selfish and short-sighted way of thinking so common today, and taking on instead Jesus' own way of thinking, you may attain fulfilment and become a seed of hope," the pope said.

Saint James has drawn pilgrims from across Europe to the cobbled streets of Santiago de Compostela for more than 1,000 years.

The Church was an all-powerful presence in Spain in the dictatorship of General Francisco Franco, who defeated the Republicans in the Civil War and died in 1975.

With democracy came an end to many restrictions on politics, behaviour and sexual mores.

Under the Socialist Party of Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero the country has gone much further, allowing gay marriage, fast-track divorce and easier abortions to the consternation of the Church.

© 2010 AFP

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