MADRID – Spain has invited Pope Benedict XVI to visit the country, whose growing secularisation worries the Vatican, next year, the government said Wednesday.
Socialist Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero extended the invitation during a "cordial" meeting with visiting Vatican Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone, a government spokesman said.
The pope was invited to visit the northwestern city of Santiago de Compostela, whose cathedral the faithful believe hold the remains of St. James the Apostle, on 25 July for its "Jubilee" celebrations.
When the apostle’s day falls on a Sunday, as it does in 2010, the year is considered a Xacobeo, or Jubilee, and special celebrations are held in the city, which draws tens of thousands of pilgrims each year.
Since first coming to office in 2004, Zapatero’s government has moved to transform Spanish society with a series of liberal social reforms, including same-sex marriages and fast-track divorce, which have enraged the Roman Catholic Church.
The Vatican has long been concerned about what Spanish bishops describe as militant secularism in Spain and its influence in Europe and former Spanish colonies in Latin America.
The Spanish government plans introduce a new law later this year that would offer greater legal protection for women who wish to have an abortion and doctors who carry out the procedure.
Deputy Prime Minister Maria Teresa de la Vega defended the government’s reforms, especially its plans to reform the abortion law, during her talks with the Vatican’s number two in Madrid, the spokesman said.
Spain decriminalised abortion in 1985 but only for certain cases: up to 12 weeks of pregnancy after a rape; up to 22 weeks in the case of malformation of the foetus; and at any point if the pregnancy represents a threat to the physical or mental health of the woman.
The majority of abortions in Spain take place in private clinics and are justified on the grounds that the pregnancy posed a "psychological risk" for the health of the woman.
[AFP / Expatica]