Pope arrives in Barcelona

[BARCLELONA] Hundreds of young Catholics who had gathered to celebrate Pope Benedict's arrival in the Catalan capital tonight with candles and songs were rewarded with a three-minute papal blessing from the Archbishop's balcony. They chanted sí, sí, sí, el Papa ya está aquí -- "yes, yes, yes, the Pope is here" (it sounds better in Spanish). 

There were also 50 protesters waving placards, some of which could only be seen in Spain. "No to the Church, no to the state", proclaimed one -- proof that anarchism hasn't entirely died out here.


Earlier in the afternoon, the police prevented a protest organized by the biggest trade union here, the CGT. But the union, headed by socialist radicals, has managed to express itself in another way, by calling a subway strike -- which means a go-slow tomorrow just when the trains are most needed to transport people travelling to the Sagrada Familia. On the television just now, I heard a CGT leader blame the Church for the economic crisis, which is more than a little far-fetched.

Tomorrow the Pope leaves at 9am for the Sagrada Familia, Antoni Gaudi's unfinished masterpiece, which he will consecrate at a Mass attended by Spain's King and Queen. At 12 noon, he will pray the Angelus outside the Nativity Facade. Tomorrow afternoon he will visit a charity run by religious sisters which cares for the mentally disabled, before returning to Rome.

So far, the Pope's gentle salvo against secularism -- which began on the plane to Spain, when he compared the anticlericalism of modern Spain to that of the 1930s -- has not provoked an angry reaction from Government. The liberal-left daily El Paisreports a government spokesman as saying that, because the Pope made no specific reference to the Government or particular laws, they had no need to respond.

This has been a carefully negotiated visit, and both sides -- the Vatican and Spain's anticlerical socialist government -- are determined to avoid a row. Spain's atheist prime minister has carefully absented himself -- on a visit to Afghanistan.

Looking at the comments following that report in El Pais -- the standard-bearer here of laicismo -- its readers have predictably reacted with annoyance to the Pope's 1930s allusion. "If the Church had been on the side of the poor in the 1930s, there wouldn't be so much laicismo," says one -- and there are many others in a similar vein.


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