Saturday, July 08, 2006

"Hola, Valencia!"

The first day of Benedict XVI's 26-hour jaunt to Spain for the Fifth World Meeting of Families has already seen several public engagements. Luckily, word is that everything is quite organized, moreso than on the usual papal visit.

Much of the trip's subtext derives from the Spanish government's plans to fast-track divorce and legalize gay marriage. During an impromptu press conference on the papal plane, Benedict replied to a question on the marriage issue by beginning that, while it was important to first emphasize the positive before addressing the negative, "There are certain things that Christian life says 'No' to."

The Pope continued that "We want to make people understand that according to human nature, it is a man and a woman who are made for each other and made to give humanity a future."

Straight from the plane, before arriving at the city's Cathedral, the Pope stopped to lay a wreath at the train station where a Monday accident killed 42 people.

Later, before the statue of "Our Lady of the Forlorn," the Patroness of Valencia, Benedict was joined by relatives of the victims as they prayed an "Our Father" for the deceased.

The most-anticipated moment of the day came when the Pope received the Spanish Premier, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, a Socialist. When Zapatero arrived at the Archbishop's Palace for his audience, I'm told that a small but vocal band of demonstrators booed, heckled and whistled at the prime minister.

No press was allowed inside for the meeting and no statements have been released.

In a letter to the Spanish bishops released today, the Pope said that "I am aware of, and I encourage the impulse that you are giving to pastoral activity at a time of rapid secularization, which can also affect the internal life of Christian communities. Continue dauntlessly to proclaim that prescinding from God, acting as if he did not exist or relegating faith to the purely private sphere, undermines the truth about man and compromises the future of culture and society. On the contrary, lifting one’s gaze to the living God, the garantor of our freedom and of truth, is a premise for arriving at a new humanity. Nowadays, in a special way the world needs people capable of proclaiming and bearing witness to God who is love, and consequently the one light which in the end, illumines the darkness of the world and gives us strength to live and work (cf. Deus Caritas Est, 39).

"In times and situations of difficulty," Benedict told the bishops, "recall those words of the Letter to the Hebrews: "let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him, endured the cross, disregarding the shame ... so that you may not grow weary or lose heart" (12:1-3). Proclaim that Jesus is "the Christ, the Son of the living God" (Mt 16:16), "the one who has the words of eternal life" (cf. Jn 6:68), and you will not tire of giving reason for your hope (cf. 1 Pet 3:15)."

The festivities continue with an evening vigil with the families and prelates gathered and a closing liturgy tomorrow morning.

PHOTO 1: Pool/Javier Barbancho
PHOTO 2: Reuters/Marcelo del Pozo