[BARCELONA] Pope Benedict XVI has left Spain after a visit of less than 48 hours after a warm send-off by King Juan Carlos and a brief meeting with the the country's anticlerical prime minister, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero.
Zapatero has conspicuously absented himself from the papal visit to Spain, preferring instead to visit Spanish troops in Afghanistan.
But he found time to greet him at the airport. According to tweets, the Pope thanked him for ensuring a trouble-free visit.
Some 2,000 jubilant Catholics were there to see the Pope off. When Zapatero emerged from his meeting with the Pope, some of them hissed him -- but then the Pope appeared, and the hisses turned to cheers.
The departure protocol was led by King Juan Carlos, who told Pope Benedict that his visits to Santiago de Compostela and Barcelona would not be forgotten by their residents.
"You have spoken words of peace, solidarity, fraternity and spirituality", the King told him, "words full of hope for a better world."
Pope Benedict in turn thanked the King, political leaders and the bishops for organising the visit, and said he was grateful for the "touching gestures of affection offered in these days to the Pope, clear signs of the openness and hospitality characteristic of the people of these lands so dear to my heart".
He said he had come to strengthen his brothers and sisters in the faith that "at the very dawn of Christianity took root in these lands and took such deep root that it has constantly shaped the spirit, customs, art and character of its peoples."
Underlining the key theme of his visit, he recalled how Christian faith had given birth to European unity. "There was a common language", he said, "the Gospel of Christ." Pilgrims of different nationalities knew that "they were members of one great family to which the other pilgrims and people along the way belonged".
And in Catalan he said that both the Sagrada Familia he consecrated this morning and the "Nen Deu" charity he visited this afternoon were "two symbols of the fruitfuness of that faith which has marked this people deeply and which ... contributes to the creation of a society more worthy of man."
With that, he left to the sound of cheering young people and the vigorous waving of Catalan and Spanish languages.
My Catholic Catalanist friend was among them. He's just texted me. "Speaking with people here they say they're really happy to stand up and be counted at last. This is Catalan Catholicism, which managed to build a cathedral in the modern age. At last we're out and proud."
It's been a long day -- I began more than 13 hours ago, at the crack of dawn -- and it's time to call in for the night. Tomorrow I'll be back at the Sagrada Familia to speak to the author of Gaudi's positio, analyse reaction to the trip, and evaluate its success.
But for now: an unquestioned success in terms of bolstering Catholic confidence. But Benedict XVI may have missed opportunities to build a dialogue with the Church's enemies. Certainly I don't feel the ground shifting as I did with the papal visit to the UK. But I'll have a clearer picture -- and head -- tomorrow.