Pope sanctifies Holy Family basilica as gays hold kiss-in

7th November 2010, Comments 0 comments

Pope Benedict XVI Sunday consecrated a world monument to family, Barcelona's Sagrada Familia church, condemned abortion and defended traditional marriage, but faced a mass "kiss-in" by gays.

As the 83-year-old pontiff paraded in his "popemobile" towards the unfinished masterpiece of Antoni Gaudi, 200 gays kissed to protest the Church's rejection of homosexuality.

It was a sign of many Spaniards' embrace of the changes that Benedict abhors: easier access to abortion, gay marriage laws that have enabled 20,000 unions in five years and swifter divorce.

The pope, his golden mitre on his head to underline the solemnity of the moment, sprinkled holy water to bless the massive stone altar of the Sagrada Familia, or Holy Family church, as singing from an 800-voice chorus rang out under its vaulted ceilings during a special dedication mass.

Among an estimated 250,000 people gathered for the pope, thousands watched on giant screens outside and broke into applause as his blessing opened the way to the celebration of mass and conferred the elevated status of basilica.

Light showered through the stone canopy in the form of leaves crackled in gold and green mosaic and supported by a forest of white tree-like columns rising 60 metres up and splitting into branches.

Only love and faith can lead to true freedom, said the pope, draped in a golden robe and white stole encrusted with red crosses, as he addressed 6,500 faithful.

"For this reason the Church resists every form of denial of human life and gives its support to everything that would promote the natural order in the sphere of the institution of the family," he said in a reference to the Church opposition to all abortion.

He urged that children's lives be defended as "sacred and inviolable" with judicial, social and legislative support, and defended the "indissoluble love of a man and a woman" as the foundation of human life.

Later the pope visited a disabled children's centre and warned that advances in medicine must "never be to the detriment of respect for human life," an allusion to the selection of embryos to eliminate deformities.

Hundreds of youngsters pressed from behind a barrier to touch and speak to the pontiff as he left the children's centre, echoing scenes of warm welcome repeated throughout his visit.

As Benedict distributed communion inside the Sagrada Familia, tens of thousands of people outside also lined up to receive the host from attending priests.

Outside the church's Nativity Facade depicting Christ's early years, he recited the Angelus prayer of devotion to masses of pilgrims, breaking into a smile at the conclusion as the crowd cheered.

Thick crowds waving yellow-and-white Vatican flags also had lined his route to the Basilica.

But not all welcomed the anti-abortion, traditional family message delivered by the pope, whose visit began Saturday in the medieval cobbled streets of Santiago de Compostela.

Hundreds of gay men and women couples locked lips for five minutes as the pope passed through Barcelona in his transparent "popemobile", breaking off to shout "Get out," and "paedophile".

Even before arriving in Santiago de Compostela, where the remains of Saint James have drawn pilgrims for more than 1,000 years, the pope warned of an "aggressive" anti-clericism in Spain.

He recalled an era before and during the Civil War when pro-Republicans killed priests and nuns and burned churches.

"Spain saw in the 1930s the birth of a strong and aggressive anti-clericism," the German-born pontiff told reporters aboard the papal plane from Rome. "The clash between faith and modernity is happening again, and it is very strong today."

After the return to democracy following the death of the dictator General Francisco Franco in 1975, came an end to restrictions on politics, behaviour and sexual mores.

Socialist Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has carried the country much further, allowing gay marriage, speedier divorce and easier access to abortions, to the consternation of the Church.

With the consecration of the Sagrada Familia, the main nave is open for mass for the first time since the first stone was laid March 19, 1882. Until now mass has been held in the crypt, Gaudi's last resting place.

Building of the Basilica could take another 15 years at least, with 10 more spires to be constructed, including the central tower crowned by a cross reaching up 170 metres (560 feet), the main Glory facade, and the sacristies.

© 2010 AFP

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