07/08/2006, 00.00
VATICAN – SPAIN – FAMILY
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Pope: Absence of God undermines truth about man and future of society

In his message to the Spanish bishops, Benedict XVI urged Christians of Spain and the rest of the world to persevere in witnessing to Christianity even in the face of persecution, to save the world from secularism, which deprives it of the testimony of God who is love. There was a special greeting for families and seminarians.

Valencia (AsiaNews) – "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." The pope's message to the bishops of Spain gathered in the chapel of the Holy Chalice of the Cathedral of Valencia, went straight to the heart of modern mission.

The visit of Benedict XVI and his participation at the World Meeting of Families are essentially turning out to be a warning against attempts to suffocate the influence of faith in society and to diminish the value of the family. For more than a year, in Spain, the government led by Zapatero has been pressing ahead with the introduction of laws and directives to eliminate Catholic teaching in schools, to legalise marriage among homosexuals, quick divorces, the manipulation of embryos, amid a crescendo of attacks against so-called "obscurantism" of the Church. The "Zapatero" scheme is followed in several countries in Europe as well as the rest of the world.

The pope encouraged the bishops to persist in their pastoral ministry "at a time of rapid secularization" because "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". And he did not neglect to refer to these times of strong tension between the Church and the government; even this visit of the pope – publicized by a sign and a slogan "We are waiting for you!" – was countered by a "We are not waiting for you!" committee. Zapatero even gave his backing for a Gay Pride during the days of the Family Meeting.

"In times and situations of difficulty, 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 bishops' solicitude must guide "the Christian conscience of the faithful about different aspects of the situation confronting them, which occasionally disturb ecclesial life and the faith of the simple."

The presence of hundreds of thousands of people following the pope everywhere he goes, the joy they reveal, the participation and solidarity in grief that struck the city only a few days ago… all appear to counter the idea of a secular Spain. But above all, they are a sure sign of the words of Benedict XVI, that faith in God "gives us the strength to live and work".

The trip from the airport to the city was flanked all the way by thick crowds of people who shouted, sang, applauded and waved flags. The pope decided to include in his itinerary a stop at the Jesús train station in Valencia, in memory of the many victims of Monday's tragic accident. Benedict XVI prayed in Latin and then in silence and placed a wreath of flowers. The crowd gathered on the sides of and in the streets however continued to shout slogans to greet the pope.

Reaching the "Plaza de la Reina", Benedict XVI was welcomed by the mayor (a woman) who handed him the keys of the city. Then he went to the Cathedral of the Assumption to meet priests, members of religious orders and cloistered nuns. The first move of the pope – while the people in church were singing – was to go to the chapel of the most Blessed Sacrament for a brief moment of adoration. He then went to the Chapel of the Holy Chalice where he met the bishops of Spain. Here, he signed the Letter addressed to the Spanish Episcopate and delivered it to the president of the bishops' conference, Mgr Ricardo Blázquez Pérez. The pope said jokingly in Italian: "I'll save you having to listen to the letter, which I just gave to the Episcopal president."

After listening to some ancient music in the cathedral and paying a visit to the Basilica of the "Virgen de los Desamparados (of the Forlorn)" - where Benedict XVI prayed again for victims of the train accident – the pope went out into the church plaza where he was awaited by tens of thousands of people, including Spanish seminarians and their relatives.

To them in particular, he said: "Your parents' love, devotion and fidelity, and the concord which reigns in your families, is the setting which best enables you to hear God's call and to accept the gift of a vocation. Live intensely the years of preparation in the seminary, with the guidance and help of your formators, and with the docility and complete trust of the Apostles, who followed Jesus without hesitation. Learn from the Virgin Mary how to accept your vocation without reserve, with joy and generosity."

The pope then recited the Angelus and blessed all those who were present.

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