Next week Pope Benedict is to visit Madrid as part of World Youth Day. But more than 100 priests from some of Spain’s poorest parishes are joining protests about his visit due to the growing cost — an estimated 60 million euros (about $85 million) — at a time when Spain has an unemployment rate of 21 percent. Among those aged 18 – 25, unemployment is 45 percent; huge public sector cuts have added to the country’s woes. Spain’s debt is about 64 percent of its GDP and, despite what its officials say, there are fears that it might need to be bailed out by European financial leaders and the International Monetary Fund just as Greece, Ireland and Portugal have been.
An umbrella group, the Priest’s Forum, says that Spain cannot afford to spend millions of euros for security and other costs surrounding the Pope’s visit. There’s a Facebook page calling for a boycott of World Youth Day sponsors including Coca-Cola, Telefónica and Santander. Among the 140 groups opposing the Pope’s visit is the secular organization Europa Laica:
“Catholics can go wherever they like in Madrid but the freedom of movement of the rest of us is restricted,” said Francisco Delgado, leader of Europa Laica, on discovering that the city had prohibited his group’s proposed march.
Europa Laica plans to march under the slogans “Not a penny of my taxes for the pope” and “For a secular state.”
In the Guardian, a spokesman for Spain’s Indignados movement, which has been organizing huge protests in central Madrid since May 15, says the government has just proposed cutting 40 million euros (about $57 million) from the education budget, so it’s hardly the right time to be spending 60 million euros for the Pope. Just a few days ago, on August 3, thousands of “Indignants” jointed an impromptu protest against the planned Pope’s five-day visit.
As a further slap in the face to residents of Madrid, the 500,000 visiting pilgrims are expected to be allowed free transport. On Monday, metro fares were raised by 50 percent.
According to a recent survey by Spain’s national statistic office, among those aged 18 to 24 the number of Catholics has fallen by 56 percent over the past 10 years so support in Madrid itself for the Pope’s visit will be limited. At a visit in Barcelona last November, Pope Benedict was “poorly received”; the popemobile was “forced to drive at top speed past small groups of the faithful along mainly deserted streets.”
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Photo taken in November of 2010 in Barcelona by Oh-Barcelona.com