July 9, 2006

Pope winds up Spain trip

By Philip Pullella and Jane Barrett

VALENCIA, Spain (Reuters) - Pope Benedict wound up a quick
trip to Valencia on Sunday, implicitly condemning some key
social legislation of Spain's Socialist government and
stressing that marriage had to be heterosexual and for life.

At the last major event of his 26-hour visit, the German
Pope presided at a mass for more than a million people on the
grounds of a sprawling futuristic arts and science complex in
Spain's third largest city.

In his homily, the Pope, wearing green and white vestments,
several times praised the traditional family, founded on
"indissoluble marriage between a man and a woman."

To press the message home, the Pope again hailed marriage
as a "permanent bond" just before he boarded a plane back to

The Pope's comments on family values were in stark contrast
with new laws in Spain to legalize gay marriage, make divorce
and fertility treatment easier and cut Catholic education in

Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, who has often
clashed head-on with the Catholic Church, did not attend mass
on Sunday and was heckled by a small crowd when he arrived at
the archbishop's residence to meet the Pope on Saturday.

Polls show around two thirds of Spaniards support gay
marriage, a sea change from the 1939-1975 dictatorship when
right-wing Francisco Franco banned homosexuality and divorce.
Less than a fifth of Spaniards now practice their faith.

During his trip, the Pope defended Christian education,
urged Spanish bishops to hold firm at "a time of rapid
secularization" and decried attempts to restrict faith and
ethics to the private sphere.

"In contemporary culture, we often see an excessive
exaltation of the freedom of the individual," he said on
Sunday, speaking in Spanish as pilgrims sheltered under
umbrellas against the beating Mediterranean sun.


The Pope, who often speaks out against abortion, also
reiterated that "at the origin of every human being there is
not something haphazard or chance, but a loving plan of God."

Despite the shortness of the Pope's trip, the third since
he was elected in 2005, the pontiff received a tumultuous
reception in Valencia with thousands of faithful from around
the world cheering and waving white and yellow Vatican flags.

Many of the families at Sunday's mass had attended a rally
with the Pope that ended around midnight on Saturday and had
camped out overnight to get a good spot for the service.

At the end of his visit, the Pope announced the Church's
next World Meeting of Families would be in Mexico City in 2009.

Zapatero's decision not to attend mass caused what a
Vatican source called a "certain irritation" in the papal

A Vatican spokesman noted Communist leaders Fidel Castro of
Cuba and Poland's Wojciech Jaruzelski had gone to masses
presided over by the late Pope John Paul II. Other Western
leaders have not attended services during pope visits.

In Valencia, Pope Benedict also visited the site of an
underground train crash that killed 42 people on Monday.