POPE Benedict XVI consecrated a world monument to family, the Sagrada Familia church, in Spain but faced a gay kiss-in protest before he attacked abortion and defended male-female marriage.
As the 83-year-old Pontiff paraded in his “Popemobile” towards the unfinished masterpiece of Antoni Gaudi in Barcelona, 200 gays kissed to protest the Church’s rejection of homosexuality.
It was a sign of many Spaniards’ embrace of the changes that Benedict abhors: easier access to abortion, gay marriage laws that have enabled 20,000 unions in five years and swifter divorce.
The Pope, his golden mitre on his head to underline the solemnity of the moment, sprinkled holy water to bless the Sagrada Familia’s massive stone altar as singing from an 800-voice chorus rang out under the vaulted ceilings of the vast church during a special dedication mass.
Among an estimated 250,000 people gathered for the Pope, thousands watched on giant screens outside and broke into applause as his blessing transformed the edifice into a Basilica.
Only love and faith can lead to true freedom, said the Pope, draped in a golden robe and white stole encrusted with red crosses, as he addressed 6500 faithful.
“For this reason the Church resists every form of denial of human life and gives its support to everything that would promote the natural order in the sphere of the institution of the family,” he said in a reference to the Church opposition to all abortion.
He urged that children’s lives be defended as “sacred and inviolable” with judicial, social and legislative support, and defended the “indissoluble love of a man and a woman” as the foundation of human life.
As Benedict distributed communion, tens of thousands of people outside lined up to receive the host from attending priests.
Later, outside the church’s Nativity Facade depicting Christ’s early years, he recited the Angelus prayer of devotion to masses of pilgrims, breaking into a smile at the conclusion as the crowd cheered.
Thick crowds had lined his route to the Basilica, most waving yellow-and-white Vatican flags as the cavalcade made its way from the city’s Episcopal palace.
But not all welcomed the Pope’s message on his weekend visit to Spain, which began on Saturday in the medieval cobbled streets of Santiago de Compostela, a draw for pilgrims for more than 1000 years.
Hundreds of gay men and women couples locked lips for five minutes as the Pope passed by, breaking off to shout “Get out,” and “paedophile”.
“We are here to demonstrate against the Pope’s visit and call for a change in the mentality of the Catholic institution which still opposes our right to different ways of loving,” said one protester, Sergi Diaz.
In Santiago de Compostela, the Pope had surprised many by warning of a return to 1930s-style “aggressive” anti-clericism, recalling an era when pro-Republicans killed priests and nuns and burned churches.
“Spain saw in the 1930s the birth of a strong and aggressive anti-clericism,” the German-born Pontiff told reporters aboard the papal plane.
“The clash between faith and modernity is happening again, and it is very strong today.”
The Catholic Church in Spain was an all-powerful presence in the dictatorship of General Francisco Franco, who defeated the Republicans in the Civil War.
But after the return to democracy following his death in 1975 came an end to restrictions on politics, behaviour and sexual mores.
Under Socialist Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, the country has gone much further, allowing gay marriage, speedier divorce and easier access to abortions, to the consternation of the Church.
Benedict underscored Gaudi’s faith as he santified the edifice, which has become a symbol of this progressive Mediterranean port city.
“The genius of Antoni Gaudi, inspired by the ardour of his Christian faith, succeeded in raising this sanctuary as a hymn of praise to God carved in stone,” Benedict said.
With the consecration, the main nave is open for daily mass for the first time since the first stone was laid March 19, 1882. Until now mass has been held in the crypt, Gaudi’s last resting place.
Building of the Basilica could take another 15 years at least, with 10 more spires to be constructed, including the central tower crowned by a cross reaching up 170 metres, the main Glory facade, and the sacristies.