Pope sanctifies Sagrada Familia, rounds on abortion

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Pope Benedict XVI Sunday consecrated a world monument to family, the Sagrada Familia church, but was faced by a gay protest before he attacked abortion and defended male-female marriage.

As the 83-year-old pontiff paraded through Barcelona's streets in his "popemobile" to the unfinished masterpiece of Antoni Gaudi, 200 gay couples kissed to protest the Church's rejection of homosexual marriage.

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.

Only love and faith can lead to true freedom, said the pope, draped in a golden vestement and mytre and adressing 6,500 faithful in the colossal main nave of the church, tranformed by his blessing into a Basilica.

"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.

The Church called for social and economic help for women to develop at home and work, and for men and women who marry to form a family with "decisive support from the state," he said.

He urged "that the life of children may be defended as sacred and inviolable from the moment of their conception, that the reality of birth be given due respect and receive juridical, social and legislative support."

Thick crowds lined the route, most waving yellow-and-white Vatican flags, as Benedict's cavalcade made its way from the Episcopal palace through the city to the church.

But not all welcome the pope's message on his weekend visit to Spain, which began Saturday in the medieval cobbled streets of Santiago de Compostela, a draw for pilgrims for more than 1,000 years.

On Saturday, the pope had surprised many in Spain by warning of a return to 1930s-style "aggressive" anti-clericism, recalling an era 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. "The clash between faith and modernity is happening again, and it is very strong today."

The Catholic Church in Spain was an all-powerful presence in the dictatorship of General Francisco Franco, who defeated the Republicans in the Civil War. But after the return to democracy following his death in 1975 came an end to restrictions on politics, behaviour and sexual mores.

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

Hundreds of gay men and women couples locked lips for five minutes as the pope made his way to Barcelona's Sagrada Familia, breaking off to shout "Get out," and "paedophile".

"We are here to demonstrate against the pope's visit and call for a change in the mentality of the Catholic institution which still opposes our right to different ways of loving," said one protester, Sergi Diaz.

Some 6,500 guests including hundreds of priests and bishops witnessed the consecration of the church, where work continues 128 years after the first stone was laid.

They sat in the vast nave, surrounded by a forest of white tree-like columns rising 60 metres up, splitting into branches and then spreading into a ceiling of leaves crackled with gold and green mosaic.

Light showered through the stone canopy and down to the nave from orbs open to the sky.

With the consecration, the main nave is open for daily 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, which has become a symbol of this Mediterranean city, could still 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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