[BARCELONA] The Pope has landed at a foggy Lavacolla airport near Santiago de Compostela in north-west Spain, touching down punctually at 11.30, where he has been greeted by the heir apparent, Prince Felipe of Asturias, and Princess Letizia, together with the Archbishop of Santiago de Compostela, Julian Barrio Barrio, as well as the president of the Spanish bishops' conference, Cardinal Rouco Varela, and assembled dignitaries.
Although this is a pastoral visit, the formal protocol is being handled by Spain's royal family, rather than the prime minister, because of the sometimes tense relations between the Socialist government and the Church. Although Church-state relations are now better than for many years, Spain's proudly atheist and anticlerical prime minister, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, who will be attending neither of the Masses, but will see the Pope off tomorrow afternoon from Barcelona.
Meeting him off the plane, the bearded prince pointed to the sky and smiled, referring no doubt to the fog typical of the mountainous region at this time of year.
(Prince Felipe's 2003 marriage to Letizia was controversial at the time. She was -- horror of horrors -- a radio journalist, and divorced).
In his speech Pope Benedict said he had come as a pilgrim, joining "the great host of men and women who down the centirues have come to Compostela from every corner of this peninsula, from throughout Europe and indeed the whole world, in order to kneel at the feet of St James and be transformed by the witness of his faith".
The effect of this ancient pilgrim route was to create "a pathway of culture, prayer, mercy and conversion, which took shape in churches and hospitals, in inns, bridges and monasteries."
What the Pope didn't say was that the pilgrim route was also the source of Christian Spain's trade and livelihood, at a time when most of the peninsula was under Arab occupation.
In this way, he said, "Spain and Europe developed a spiritual physiognomy marked indelibly by the Gospel".
He reminded his listeners of Spain's contribution to Christianity -- "a constellation of great saints, founders and poets", among them Ignatius of Loyola, Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross and Francis Xavier".
And then he gave a glimpse of the theme of his homilies at the cathedral Mass this afternoon, and at the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona tomorrow morning.
He had come, he said, "to encourage Spain and Europe to build their present and to project their future on the basis of the authentic truth about man, on the basis of the freedom which presents this truth and never harms it, and on the basis of justice for all, beginning with the poor and most defenceless."
After giving a blessing in gallego, the language of Galicia which looks and sounds a lot like Portuguese, Pope Benedict went for a private meeting with the Prince and Princess, where where he is at the time of writing. He he will set off soon in the popemobile to Santiago de Compostela, where he is expected to be greeted by 200,000 people.
He will go to the cathedral to pray at the tomb of St James the Apostle and enjoy the spectacle of the botafumeiro -- the vast incense-burner which is the cathedral's symbol (on which more soon) -- before lunching with the bishops and a Mass attended by 7,000 this afternoon.