- Associated Press - Sunday, November 7, 2010

BARCELONA (AP) — Pope Benedict XVI strongly defended traditional families and the rights of the unborn Sunday, attacking Spanish laws that allow gay marriage, fast-track divorce and easier abortions as he dedicated Barcelona’s iconic basilica, the Sagrada Familia.

It was the second time in as many days that Benedict criticized the policies of Spain’s Socialist government and called for Europe as a whole to rediscover Christian teachings and apply them to everyday life.

As he headed to the basilica, about 200 gays and lesbians staged a ‘kiss-in’ to protest his visit and church policies that consider homosexual acts “intrinsically disordered.” Later, several hundred women marched to protest their second-class status in the church and the Vatican’s opposition to birth control.

But in contrast, some 250,000 people came out to cheer the pope and watch as he formally inaugurated Barcelona’s newest basilica, an architectural marvel still unfinished after more than 100 years of construction.

Benedict has focused much of his pontificate on trying to fight secular trends in the West such as the legal recognition of same-sex unions. He has visited Spain twice and has a third trip planned next year, an indication he sees this once staunchly Roman Catholic country as a battleground for the future of the faithful in Europe.

During his homily Sunday, Benedict noted that the church of the Sagrada Familia — a soaring, art nouveau basilica with sandcastlelike spires — was initially conceived of as a temple to the sacred family of its name — Jesus, Mary and Joseph.

He railed against same-sex marriage and divorce, saying families are built on the “indissoluble love of a man and a woman,” who should be provided with financial and social benefits from governments. He criticized policies allowing for abortions, saying, “The life of children (must) be defended as sacred and inviolable from the moment of their conception.”

Benedict also planned to visit a church-run home for children with developmental and behavioral problems before returning to Rome on Sunday night.

Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero’s Socialist government has supported a legislative agenda that has deeply angered the Vatican, allowing gay marriage, quicker divorces and easier abortions.

On Saturday, Benedict blasted such policies, saying today’s “aggressive” anti-church, secular movement in Spain was reminiscent of the 1930s, when the church suffered violent persecution as the country lurched from an unstable democracy to civil war. Benedict was to meet privately with Mr. Zapatero at the airport before departing Sunday, a low-profile event that reflected their divergent views.

In his homily Sunday, Benedict again called for the West to embrace God and shun secular trends. He said the dedication of the Sagrada Familia church was of great importance “at a time in which man claims to be able to build his life without God, as if God had nothing to say to him.”

During the ritual-filled dedication ceremony, rarely celebrated by a pope, Benedict poured holy oil over the marble altar and spread it across all four corners with his hands, an apron protecting his vestments. Priests then smudged oil on the basilica’s walls. Benedict lit a brass incense burner on the altar as Spain’s King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia looked on.

Afterward, four nuns dressed in black mopped up the remaining oil from the altar and four others placed fresh linens on it.

The church, which was declared a basilica, is the masterwork of Antoni Gaudi, a Barcelona architect and staunch Catholic who dedicated his life to the project but died in 1926, only a few years after it was begun. He is on the path to possible sainthood.

The light-filled basilica is awash in Christian symbolism and imagery; its planned 18 spires, which pierce Barcelona’s skyline, represent the 12 apostles, the four evangelists, Mary and Jesus; the basilica’s three main exterior facades depict Christ’s birth, death and resurrection; the 52 palm-tree-like columns inside represent the 52 Sundays of the year.

Benedict praised Gaudi for integrating nature, scripture and liturgy in his masterpiece in a way that overcame the distinction between the temporal and the eternal world.

“Antoni Gaudi did this not with words but with stones, lines, planes and points,” Benedict said.

City authorities said 250,000 Spaniards lined Benedict’s motorcade route and watched the Mass, cheering and waving the yellow-and-white flags of the Holy See. Mixed among the throngs outside Barcelona’s cathedral were 200 members of the gay ‘kiss-in’ who smooched as the popemobile went by.

Sergi Benavent, a 22-year-old nursing student, said he joined the ‘kiss-in’ to show his opposition to those “who want to love in just one way.”

“This is a peaceful demonstration that there are more ways of expressing one’s love,” he said.

At a separate demonstration, more than 500 people marched behind banners reading, “The woman decides to be a mother” and “Condoms save, the pope damns.”

One of the organizers, Montse Cervara, said it was important to voice opposition, since the church is “against all the rights we have fought to have recognized, like the right to choose.”

Associated Press writers Joseph Wilson in Barcelona and Harold Heckle in Madrid contributed to this report.

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