Europe

Pope in Madrid: Opinion divided over pontiff's visit

Pope Benedict XVI meets young people in Madrid, 19 August
Image caption The Pope's visit is the highlight of a giant Catholic youth festival

Pope Benedict XVI is in the Spanish capital, Madrid, for four days of events expected to be attended by hundreds of thousands of people.

On Wednesday night there were clashes between police and protesters demonstrating against the cost of the event.

Here, four people in Madrid share their contrasting views on the pontiff's visit.

Alicia Lopez, 32, unemployed, Madrid

I joined the demonstration against the Pope's visit. The main issue is the cost of the visit, especially at a time when the government is slashing social spending.

Where is all the money coming from? I don't believe all the money has been raised privately. And they've opened up state facilities for use by the Church - for example schools for pilgrims to sleep in.

I'm also against the prominence this has given to the Catholic Church. One Church has taken over the whole city. Spain is a non-confessional state, there is no official religion in this country and we should not give so much support to the Catholic Church.

I witnessed confrontation between protesters and pilgrims - but from what I saw it was the pilgrims who were doing the provoking.

The path of the demonstration took us through the central Sol Square but when we came to it there were pilgrims there. They shouted slogans such as "This square belongs to the Pope" and "This is the youth of Pope" and "This is the youth of Spain".

The police moved them from Sol, but many remained on the roads leading to the central square. Some of the pilgrims continued to shout slogans, which provoked protesters to shout back.

As I left the protest with my placard calling for a secular state, a middle-aged woman shouted at me saying I was the shame of Spain.

Eva Moreno, 38, lawyer, Madrid

I think it's great that the leader of the Catholic Church has come to our Catholic country.

It's a great moment to remember the core values of the Church like charity and justice.

I feel really excited about the visit - I feel young again - and I plan to go to the main events.

There are some who are protesting against the visit - but they are small in number compared to those who have come to see the Pope.

And I would say to the protesters that we, as Catholics, have the right to express our opinion and our support for the Pope.

After all, we allow supporters of Real Madrid to fill the streets. Those who protest should be tolerant of our opinion.

I think it is false to say that this visit is costing the taxpayer as the visit is being paid for by pilgrims and sponsors.

Ana Munoz, 20, student, Madrid and London

I don't see how a million extra tourists in Spain could be in any way an economic burden for the central and regional governments. It's putting Spain in the spotlight - and this time not because of our poor economic situation or unemployment rate.

I was in town when the protests were happening - and from what I saw the focus was on religion, rather than the cost of the visit.

Most of the placards I saw were against the Pope or Christian beliefs. People were shouting harsh things at the pilgrims, referring to the Pope as a "Nazi". They were also flying communist and Republican flags.

I saw two gay men trying to provoke a priest by kissing and taunting him.

I am an atheist but I expect people to respect those with faith. By tradition and by majority, Spain is Catholic. A lot of our culture is based on religion.

In a way it is not surprising. I feel that the youth movements such as the indignants have been radicalised by those with anti-religious feelings.

The Socialist Party, which has been in the government for the past seven years, has had a very clear anti-Christian agenda.

This has created an even wider division in society as we are told to negate our religious culture and tradition for the sake of "modernity".

Carmen Valache, 27, market analyst, Madrid

I am a resident of Madrid and I don't like what is going on at all.

Religious convictions and choices aside, Madrid city hall decided to spend taxpayers' money at a time of economic crisis on organising festivities for pilgrims from outside Madrid.

Yes, I know they say that the money is being raised privately - but I find it hard to believe.

The money could be put to better use - such as finding ways to create jobs.

Most residents of Madrid are actually away on holiday this time of year, so they don't even get to enjoy the Pope's visit.

The flood of pilgrims has affected a normally tranquil Madrid in August. Large parts of central Madrid have been closed off. Cafes and bars are packed.

Public transportation can barely cope with the excess of people.

On Tuesday I found myself in the middle of a Mass - and I was stuck in a crowd of people for an hour and a half.

The Pope's visit does seem to have increased tensions between liberals and conservatives here. Especially as the governing Socialists may lose out to the conservative PP party at the general election in November.

More on this story

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites