Zayan Pereborow on Mixed Sentiment Towards the Pope's Arrival in Barcelona

Before my study abroad experience in Barcelona, I was under the impression that the majority of the Spanish population practiced Catholicism. It is true that Spain'’s dominant religion is Roman Catholicism, accounting for 76 percent of the population. My initial assumption was supported by the presence of various sacred religious symbols in Barcelona.
During my visit to the Barcelona Cathedral (La Seu), I had the privilege of enjoying the celebrated example of Catalan Gothic architecture. La Seu felt like a museum in itself. After visiting La Sagrada Familia, the Basilica and Expiatory Church of the Holy Family, I was absolutely captivated by the brilliant architecture of Antoni Gaudí. Although the work is yet to be finished, Gaudí, a deeply religious man, intended the church to be the “last great sanctuary of Christendom,” which is apparent in the design of La Sagrada Familia. Following my experience of the church and its three magnificent façades (Nativity, Passion, and Glory), I associated Barcelona with having a strong Catholic affiliation. 

However, I have come to find that there are many individuals who do not associate themselves with any sort of religious practices or affiliation. This past Sunday, November 7, Pope Benedict XVI had consecrated La Sagrada Familia. I assumed that there would a universal sentiment of Barcelona being honored to welcome the Pope in his blessing of the church. I realized that I was wrong after both engaging in a debate with my Spanish class and talking with some of my Catalonian friends. Adopting a more secular ideology, my friends said that they were indifferent to the Pope'’s arrival because of his conservative position on gay marriage and abortion. I have to admit that I was a little surprised, and I was caught off guard during a public protest against the Pope by approximately 200 homosexuals and feminists. 

On the Pope's way to La Sagrada Familia in his “papamóvil,” 200 gays and lesbians progressively staged a mass “kiss-in” for five minutes in their efforts to demonstrate their disapproval of the Pope’'s visit and the mentality of the Catholic institution. In addition, about 100 feminists and pro-choice activists also staged a protest in central Barcelona in response to the Pope’'s pro-life position on abortion. Behind one of the protester’'s banner said, “"We women don'’t want you. Keep your rosaries off our ovaries.”" 

Although there were hundreds of thousands of people who highly regarded the Pope and anxiously waited in line for several hours to see him, I could not help but feel that the protest movement overshadowed the entire event. In the crowd, I saw many balconies waving the Vatican flag to welcome the Pope but also could not help but notice the many rainbow flags that represented disapproval for the pontiff. 

This experience really opened my eyes as I found Spain to be more progressive and liberal than I initially thought. After speaking with my host family, I discovered that Spain is actually one of the most liberal countries in Europe. During the Mass at La Sagrada Familia, Pope Benedict criticized the government'’s secular values. Spain’'s prime minister, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, of the Socialist Party, recently legalized gay marriage and eased restrictions on abortion which has angered the Catholic Church. In addition, the Pope expressed his growing concern at the increasing secularism and anti-clericalism in Europe, especially in Spain. According to recent statistics, 76x percent of Spaniards affiliate with the Catholic religion, but only 14.4 percent regularly attend religious services.

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