Pope consecrates Gaudi cathedral


Pope Benedict attacked abortion and gay marriage, recently legalised in Spain, in a Mass today to consecrate Barcelona's iconic church in another pointed criticism of what he called Spain's "aggressive secularism".

Spain's legalisation of abortion on demand this year and gay marriage in 2005 have stoked tensions with the Vatican, but Madrid has tried to downplay any friction during the pope's two-day visit.

Hundreds of gay and lesbians protested the Church's position by kissing publicly as the pope passed by on his way to the fantastically embellished modernist Sagrada Familia, designed by Antoni Gaudi and under construction for 128 years.

"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," the pope said in the Mass.

He also said "the indissoluble love of a man and a woman is the effective context of human life in its gestation, birth, growth, and natural end," in a clear criticism of gay marriage.

Before Sunday the Sagrada Familia - which will eventually be able to seat more than 10,000 people - had never been used as a church. Gaudi died in 1926 and construction has been slow, funded only by visitor admission fees and donations.

It was not clear if the pope noticed the mass kiss protest in the midst of thousands of flag-waving supporters who cheered the pope as he rode by in a bullet-proof "pope mobile".

"We are here for a peaceful protest. The church oppresses us and doesn't respect us. . . . We can't tolerate this sort of pope in the 21st century," said Eduardo Prado, one of about 300 men and women who participated in the so-called queerkissflashmob.

Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero promoted the legalisation of gay marriage, including adoption rights, and a law allowing abortion on demand for women 16 years and older during the first 14 weeks of pregnancy.

Spain, where 76 per cent of the population consider themselves Catholic, was the third country in the world to legalise homosexual marriage.

Pope Benedict, on his second visit to Spain since he was elected, drew criticism from leftist commentators for remarks he made on his flight to the country on Saturday when he said the country was going through a period of "aggressive secularism like we saw in the 1930s".

The pope called for a "re-evangelisation" of Spain, which has produced some of the most influential Catholics in history.

The pontiff today praised the Sagrada Familia, which when completed will have 18 soaring towers representing important figures of Christianity as well as intricate sculptures detailing Jesus's life. The name of the church means Holy Family in English.

"Gaudi, by opening his spirit to God, was capable of creating in this city a space of beauty, faith and hope which leads man to an encounter with him who is truth and beauty itself," the pope said during his homily.