Cheers as pope consecrates Barcelona landmark

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Thousands of faithful cheered as Pope Benedict XVI on Sunday concecrated the Sagrada Familia church in Barcelona -- Antonio Gaudi's architectural masterpiece which has come to symbolise the Spanish city.

Crowds of up to five rows deep lined both sides of the street leading to the Basilica, whose eight towers topped with ceramics dominate Barcelona's skyline.

"Yes, yes, yes, the pope is already here," a group of youths chanted as the pontiff's white popemobile approached.

Adults and children climbed onto window sills to get a better look at the 83-year-old pope while others snapped pictures on their mobile phones.

"This is really moving. I saw the pope wave. It is not every day that you see the pope in person," said 36-year-old Soraya Santamaria after the popemobile passed by.

She had waited for over an hour with her daughter and a female friend who came with her two daughters.

Several seats leading to the church were closed and rows of wooden chairs laid out in front of giant screens that broadcast the mass.

The faithful watching the ceremony outside the church applauded when Benedict sprinkled holy water to consecrate the Sagrada Familia, transforming it into a Basilica.

"This is a historic day for the city, it was important for me to be here," said 55-year-old Joan Asensior who wore a grey hat in the chill.

Signs in the yellow and white of the Vatican flag were hung from several apartments in the streets around the church welcoming the German-born pontiff with the words: "All with the pope."

But from many other apartments, often in the same buildings, 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.

"Homophobia. Hypocrisy. Corruption. Confessional state. Paedophilia. Vatican bank. NO THANK YOU," read one large white and black banner hung from the balcony of an apartment near the Sagrada Familia.

Around 200 gay men and women couples kissed each other in protest against the Church opposition to homosexuality as Benedict's popemobile passed by, breaking off to shout "Get out," and "paedophile".

The pope celebrated the solemn mass on a 7.5-tonne stone altar, accompanied by hymns from an 800-voice chorus. Hundreds of priests and bishops were among the 6,500 guests inside the church.

Flags from South Korea, Brazil, Colombia and Mexico could be seen among the crowd that surrounded the Sagrada Familia.

"I had to come. I could not stay at home. I have a lot of faith," said Solange Abreu, a 41-year-old Brazilian who lives in Barcelona and who came to the mass with a friend.

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

The building work 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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