Protesters, faithful greet pope in Barcelona

7th November 2010, Comments 0 comments

Anti-papal protesters and the faithful greeted Pope Benedict XVI as he set off Sunday in his popemobile to bless a world monument to family, Barcelona's Sagrada Familia church.

The 83-year-old pontiff is on a weekend visit to Spain, struggling against an onslaught of social change: gay marriage, faster divorce and easier access to abortion.

The pope set off in the white transparent vehicle from the Episcopal Palace on a route through the city to Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi's great unfinished art nouveau masterpiece, the Sagrada Familia.

Thick crowds lined the route, the vast majority waving yellow-and-white flags, the colours of the Vatican, as Benedict XVI, draped in a red cape, passed by, smiling and waving from the popemobile.

From one apartment building hung signs in Vatican colours, welcoming the German-born pontiff with the words: "All with the pope."

On the same building, other banners from an anti-papal movement declared "Jo no t'espero", the Catalan for "I am not waiting for you", along with a red triangle imposed over the pope's profile.

Businesses sold water and sandwiches to the crowds of elderly, young, and parents with strollers -- some carrying Vatican or Catalan flags. Groups of young Christians shoulted "Ben-e-dicto."

"It is an important day for Barcelona, for Catalonia. That there are so many people here to see the pope means that despite everything the Church is still important for many people," said 66-year-old Nuria Borja, a green scarf wrapped around her neck in the morning chill.

Not everyone in this Mediterreanean port city was there to welcome the pontiff.

"I hate the pope, he should stay in his own country instead of coming here to annoy us in Barcelona," said 24-year-old Eduardo Stuard, who opposed the Church's strict opposition to gay marriage and abortion.

The pope will consecrate the Sagrada Famila as a basilica during a solemn mass celebrated on a 7.5-tonne stone altar, accompanied by hymns from three combined choirs totalling 800 voices. Hundreds of priests and bishops were among the 6,500 guests inside the church early Sunday.

And once the nave is consecrated, it will be open for daily mass for the first time since the first stone was laid March 19, 1882. Now mass is held in the crypt, which houses Gaudi's remains.

Building could still take another 15 years at least, with 10 more spires to go, including the central tower crowned by a cross reaching up 170 metres (560 feet).

© 2010 AFP

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