Sunday, July 09, 2006

Million in Spain Hear Pope Praise Traditional Family

Million in Spain Hear Pope Praise Traditional Family

Published: July 9, 2006
VALENCIA, Spain, July 9 — A million or more Catholics prayed here today in support of the traditional family, cheering Pope Benedict XVI as he defined it as "founded on indissoluble marriage between a man and a woman."

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Not long ago, such a public proclamation would have seemed unnecessary, especially in staunchly Catholic Spain. But many Catholics have been disturbed by the growing recognition of same-sex unions — and the event here stood as a protest of sorts against governments like Spain's, which legalized gay marriage last year.

"Christian people must be generous with other unions," said Antonio Martínez, a 45-year-old Spanish army officer, as Benedict celebrated an open-air Mass here at the City of Arts and Sciences, a futuristic museum and convention center. "But this is not a sacrament. It is political. Men and men are not a family. It can be friendly. It can be another thing. But it is not possible to be a family."

The 79-year-old pope arrived at this seaside city on Saturday as the central attraction of a conference in defense of the traditional family, with Catholics from around the world participating.

The visit was brief — he returned to the Vatican in less than 26 hours — but significant in its all-but-explicit protest against the policies of Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero. The prime minister is at odds with the church not only over gay marriage but over some of his other policies, like his moves to ease divorce and fertility laws.

Tension over the pope's visit was high enough that Mr. Zapatero did not attend the Mass, a gesture that Vatican officials portrayed as a public snub. He did, however, visit the pope briefly on Saturday evening — and was booed by onlookers on the way in. His office described the visit as "cordial."

Family, sex and religion invariably stir strong emotions: One Spanish bishop gave an interview during the visit referring to the "gay empire" controlling the Spanish government's agenda, and at the Mass here on Sunday, the archbishop of Valencia, Agustín García-Gasco Vicente, spoke of the traditional family as the basis for "the construction of a civilization of love and life against the culture of death."

The phrase is often used by religious and right-wing groups to attack those who support gay marriage, abortion and euthanasia. Gay groups, in turn, have protested the pope's visit here.

But the pope himself, as he did in all his public appearances here, avoided any condemnatory edge in his language, as he praised a family created in a marriage between a man and woman as central to God's plan.

"Certainly, we come from our parents and we are their children," he said. "But we also come from God who has created us in his image and called us to be his children.

"Consequently, at the origin of every human being there is not something haphazard or chance, but a loving plan of God."

The crowd cheered perhaps most loudly when he spoke of the family as a continuation of values and knowledge passed from one generation to the next, as part of a community in which the church plays a central role.

"All of us received from others both life itself and its basic truths, and we have been called to attain perfection in relationship and loving communion with others," he said. "The family, founded on indissoluble marriage between a man and a woman, is the expression of this relational, filial and communal aspect of life."

The Vatican estimated the crowd at the Mass at 1.5 million, with another 700,000 watching at large screens around the city. The numbers, along with the enthusiasm, seemed notable on several fronts.

First, it seemed to dispel any immediate fears that the quiet and bookish Benedict — who has himself expressed reservations about such huge papal events — would be able to attract the kind of crowds that showed up for the far-more charismatic John Paul II, who died last year.

"With John Paul, people wanted to see him," said Ester Calvo, 33, a doctor from Barcelona. "With Benedict, we want to hear him."

The rest of this story is at The NY Times.

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