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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, August 19, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 33
Pope visits Spain, met by protesters
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Pope visits Spain, met by protesters

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Pope Benedict XVI landed in Spain August 18 for the Roman Catholic World Youth Day festival.

He was greeted at the airport by Spain's King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia. BBC News reported that some 1 million Catholic young people were in Madrid for the church youth festival.

Benedict was also met by thousands of protesters representing more than 100 groups opposing his visit.

LGBT rights activists organized a kiss-in to coincide with the pope's appearance at the youth festival.

The 15M 'Indignant' movement also called for a march to protest what they consider to be wasteful Spanish government spending on the papal visit at a time of economic crisis.

The movement is named after huge anti-government demonstrations that erupted in cities across Spain on May 15, protesting government austerity measures,

Among the groups associated with 15M is the LGBT organization Asamblea Transmaricabollo de Sol, one of the groups organizing the anti-pope kiss-in.

On Facebook, LGBT organizers said the kiss-in would be 'dedicated to an educational, lewd, and (r)evolutionary celebration of the arrival of the Holy Father Benedict XVI.'

The planned kiss-in was aimed at protesting the Roman Catholic Church's 'moral condemnations of sexuality,' a spokesman for the Transmaricabollo group, Jaime del Val, told AFP news service.

As SGN went to press, AFP reported that Spanish police foiled the kiss-in.

Activists had planned to join up on the major street Calle Serrano, along which the pope was to travel in his bulletproof white popemobile for a welcoming ceremony in Plaza de Cibeles square.

However, more than 100 yards from their planned meeting point and an hour before the pope passed by, a cordon of police blocked the demonstrators and forced them to disperse.

About 50 of the protesters kissed each other in front of hundreds of police in the central Plaza de Colon square, less than half a mile from the papal ceremony.

The pope was confronted with a similar kiss-in in Barcelona when he visited Spain in November last year.

About 200 Gay and Lesbian couples locked lips to demand the Church recognize LGBT rights as Benedict paraded through Barcelona's streets November 7.

On the evening of August 17 police clashed with demonstrators in Puerta del Sol square in the heart of Madrid. The square has been the site of previous anti-government demonstrations by 15M.

When police tried to clear the square, officers in riot gear fought with protesters, some of them throwing bottles and water.

According to the BBC, protesters then marched into the old city center, shouting: 'Nothing for the pope from my taxes.'

Spain has been particularly hard-hit by the global economic crisis, leading to massive layoffs of Spanish workers, cuts in wages, and reductions in social services.

'We are not angry about the pope's visit, which some will agree with and others won't, but rather over the financing of it with public money, especially at a time when many services are being cut because it's necessary to curb government spending,' 15M said in a statement.

On August 17, police also announced they had foiled a plot to gas anti-pope demonstrators by arresting a Mexican chemistry student.

Police said Jose Perez Bautista planned to attack an anti-pope march with 'asphyxiating gases and other chemical substances.'

Perez was released on bail the next day, and his attorney said police had not seized any chemicals from his client.

The attorney said Perez had not actually intended to attack anyone, and the online messages that had led police to arrest him were merely 'a joke in bad taste.'

World Youth Day is a major Roman Catholic festival, and the Spanish church celebrated it in extravagant form.

Celebrations began in advance of the pope's arrival on August 16 with a giant open-air Mass conducted by 800 bishops, archbishops, and cardinals, and more than 8,000 priests.

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