Million young expected at Madrid Catholic rally

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More than a million young people are expected to attend the Roman Catholic Church's World Youth Day (WYD) celebrations in Spain in August, a senior church official said Tuesday.

By Monday "about 300,000 pilgrims" had enrolled for the event, which will take place in Madrid between August 16 and 21, Santiago de la Cierva, executive director of the gathering, said at the Vatican.

Of these 50,000 were Spanish and about the same number French and Italian. More than 17,000 of the faithful were expected to come from the United States and 10,000 from Poland, he told a news conference.

Pope Benedict XVI will attend from August 18 to 21, making the third visit of his papacy to Spain. He will meet King Juan Carlos, Prime Minister Jose Luis Zapatero, opposition leader Mariano Rajoy and the Madrid authorities.

Because of Spain's delicate economic situation, the budget for the event, the 26th in the series, will be 20 percent lower that for the last WYD, in Sydney in July 2008.

The WYD, instituted by Pope John Paul II in 1986, was held in 1989 in the northwestern Spanish city of Santiago de Compostela.

Religion is on the retreat in Spain, which under the regime of dictator Francisco Franco was a Roman Catholic stronghold. While in 2002 80 percent of Spaniards identified themselves as Catholics the figure is now 73 percent.

Spanish society has become more liberal since 2005 with legislation making divorce easier, legalising homosexual marriage (20,000 unions have been celebrated since 2005) and making abortion more available.

© 2011 AFP

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