Benedict XVI arrives in Madrid after anti-papal protest ends in violence

Government expresses hope that pope will avoid criticism of Socialist policies; pontiff calls for ethical approach to heal economy

Pope Benedict XVI on Thursday began a four-day official visit to Madrid after violent clashes the previous day between police and demonstrators protesting the cost of his visit in a country still struggling to recover from its worst recession in decades.

The 84-year-old pontiff was met at Barajas International Airport by King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofía and some 2,000 young pilgrims from among the hundreds of thousands in the Spanish capital to celebrate the Catholic Church's annual World Youth Day (WYD) event.

In the first of nine speeches and three sermons he is scheduled to deliver while in Madrid, Benedict XVI addressed the economic crisis on a day in which the world's stock markets suffered heavy losses on fears of a renewed global recession. "The economic crisis is also one of ethics, without which the economy cannot survive," he said. The pope's visit is estimated to have cost 50 million euros.

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Prior to the pope's arrival from Rome at midday, Cabinet Secretary Ramón Jáuregui reiterated the government's hope that Benedict XVI's message in Spain would be of a "global nature" rather than focusing on issues particular to Spain, where the Socialist government has clashed with the Church over issues such as the legalization of gay marriage, abortion on demand, stem-cell research and fast-track divorce legislation.

In his inaugural address to WYD pilgrims in Cibeles on Thursday evening, the pope stuck to a script of welcome and faith, delivered in polished Spanish and a range of other languages.

"I would like to thank the national, regional and local authorities for their presence and their generosity in making this event possible," the pope said. "May Christ's message of love fill the hearts of those who do not believe or who have lost their faith."

Welcoming the pope earlier in the day, King Juan Carlos referred to the difficult times facing young people in general, none more so than Spain where youth unemployment stands at 45 percent, one of the highest rates in the developed world.

"Young people are looking to fulfill their legitimate aspirations in this complex and interdependent world," he said. Benedict XVI also called for respect for Christian youth. "Many young people, because of their faith in Christ, suffer discrimination," he said.

In the disturbances in Madrid on Wednesday night, eight people were arrested and eleven injured as the anti-papal protestors tried to converge on Puerta del Sol, the scene of a massive camp-out by the Indignant 15-M movement before local elections in Spain earlier this year.

The pope was also greeted at Barajas by Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, accompanied by Foreign Minister Trinidad Jiménez and Public Works Minister José Blanco, Cabinet Secretary Jáuregui, as well as Madrid Mayor Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón, regional premier Esperanza Aguirre and Congress speaker José Bono.

Aguirre said she was "lost for words" and nearly grazed the floor with her knee when she made a genuflection to the pope. Opposition Popular Party leader Mariano Rajoy was also part of an exceptionally broad welcoming committee of Spanish political dignitaries.

After leaving Barajas, Benedict XVI traveled to the center of Madrid in the Popemobile as thousands lined up along the route waved and cheered his arrival. He later went to rest at the Nunciature, the Vatican's embassy in Madrid.

The pope's visit will cause considerable disruption for motorists, with nine major highways set to close at some stage between his arrival and his departure on Sunday evening. While in Madrid, the pope will visit the El Escorial monastery in the hills northwest of the capital on Friday, where he will hold a papal meeting with 1,000 college professors. Later in the day, at 7.30pm, the Via Crucis procession of statues will take place in Madrid.

The highlight of the pope's itinerary for the faithful will take place at the aerodrome at Cuatro Vientos, in the south of the capital. At 8.30pm on Saturday, the pope will preside a vigil and pilgrims will remain overnight at the aerodrome ahead of a Mass on Sunday morning at 9.30am when the pope will address the World Youth Day pilgrims and announce the location for the next edition of the event.

The pope greets pilgrims on his arrival at Madrid's Plaza de Cibeles.
The pope greets pilgrims on his arrival at Madrid's Plaza de Cibeles.CARLOS ROSILLO
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