The Pope meets with Prime Minister Zapatero before departing back to Rome

Zapatero refused to attend the ceremonies in Santiago de Compostela and in Barcelona. This meeting was the only one they shared during the Pope’s trip. Zapatero’s decision, announced several days ago, raised controversy in Spain. The Pope himself contributed to the tension answering back and criticising what he called the “aggressive secularism” present in Spain nowadays, which reminded him of the 1930s atmosphere.

CNA / Gaspar Pericay Coll

November 7, 2010 09:09 PM

Barcelona (ACN).- After having visited the Barcelona’s Archdiocese’s Nen Déu centre for children with Downs Syndrome and other disabilities, the Pope arrived at the airport to go back to Rome. There, he spent some minutes with the Spanish Prime Minister, José Luís Rodríquez Zapatero. This meeting was the only time they saw each other during this visit. The content of the conversation is unknown. The Vatican State Secretary, Tarcisio Bertone was also present. The relationship between the Catholic Church and Zapatero’s government has always been a bit tense, as a reaction to Zapatero’s policies regarding civil rights, such as gay marriage, and his decision to review the funding of the Catholic Church, which Spain was historically subsidising with enormous amounts of money. The meeting was followed by a farewell ceremony, where the King of Spain and thanked the Pope for his visit and Benedict XVI thanked Spanish citizens for their hospitality. The Pope also spoke a few words in Catalan regarding the Sagrada Família and thanking the Catalan people. The King only read a small sentence in Catalan.

The visit of the Pope is now over without any significant surprises except the words of the Pontiff before arriving, when he criticised what he called the “aggressive secularism”. He also compared to the situation of the 1930s, where Spain suffered a devastating Civil War, provoked by a fascist military uprising backed by the Catholic Church and declared at the time as “a crusade”.

The Pope’s words, questioning the separation between Church and State, were preceded by Prime Minsiter Zapatero’s announcement that he would not attend any of the scheduled ceremonies. Just as announced, they met at the airport before the Pope’s departure. The meeting lasted slightly more than 10 minutes, it was a private matter and the influential Secretary of State of the Vatican, Tarcisio Bertone was the third person present, apart from the translator. Immediately after the meeting, the brief farewell ceremony started.

The Pope continues addressing significant parts of his speech in Catalan

As announced, the Pope used Catalan in all his speeches during most of the 23 hours he spent in Barcelona. This was also the case at the airport. The King of Spain also addressed a few words to the audience present, although only read one sentence in Catalan, not like the Pope, who was reading significant parts of his speech. The ceremony was held in the recently opened repairs hangar of Iberia at Barcelona-El Prat airport. This was the final act of the Pope’s visit before walking on the red carpet directly to the steps of the plane.

The Pope calls for Christian solidarity in times of crisis and defends human life

In the penultimate speech he gave, at the Nen Déu centre for Downs Syndrome and other disabilities, the Pope recommended that scientific progress should not interfere in any way with human life, in a clear reference to abortion.

In addition, Benedict XVI has asked Catholics to make charitable and solidarity gestures with others in these difficult times of economic crisis. He has also claimed a central role for the Catholic religion in the country’s daily life, making again a vague reference to the secularisation of Spanish society, in particular territories like Catalonia. Proof of this is that only 250,000 people gathered in the streets to cheer the Pope, despite many buses coming from different parts of Catalonia and the rest of Spain. The Archdiocese of Barcelona expected about half a million people and cancelled all the Masses in Barcelona, in an effort to encourage Catholics to follow the Pope’s mass at the Sagrada Família.