05 September 2011

Popes, protests and pilgrimages

Spain is in danger of losing her faith, according to Pope Benedict, concerned about falling church attendance, gay marriages, abortions, sex education, the morning-after pill, divorce and even the teaching of evolution over creation, in a land known for centuries as one of the Catholic Church's highest bastions of dogma.

El Papa believes it is up to Spain's youth to reverse the trend towards "aggressive secularism", and he had his speech all ready to deliver to 1.5 million devout youngsters in Madrid at last month's International Youth Day gathering, before a violent thunderstorm brought an abrupt end to the proceedings.  One can't help but wonder about that Hand of God ...

Meanwhile, people concerned about Spain's other crisis (the economic one) were angry about the estimated €50 million cost to the taxpayer of His Holiness's visit to Madrid at a time when austerity measures are seriously starting to bite.  A peaceful protest was forcibly removed from his line of sight by police wielding batons - which some of them used a little too enthusiastically, resulting in a disciplinary enquiry.

Gay rights protesters also took to the streets, angry about the Vatican's publicly anti-gay stance while secretly protecting child-abusing priests.  Police foiled protesters’ plans to stage a gay couples’ kiss-in, although at least one couple managed a kiss in front of the Popemobile as it went by.

But the Pope is right; Spain is losing its faith - in the Church, at least.  There is a desperate shortage of priests, only 13% of people go to mass regularly and 22% (46% of under-25s)  declare themselves as "without religion".

In fact much of Spain lost faith in the established Church decades ago.  Traditionally it takes the side of the powerful against the poor; it was closely allied with fascism for much of the 20th century, and the attacks on priests and churches during the "Red Terror" of the 1930s were the predictable outcome of centuries of oppression and betrayal. 

Breaking a heretic on the Wheel
The Spanish Inquisition was established in the 15th century when the Christian monarchs forced Spanish Jews to convert to Christianity or leave the country.  It was later used to hunt down, torture and burn Protestants, Muslims, witches, bigamists, blasphemers, Freemasons and homosexuals.  Although the Inquisition was officially abolished in 1834, the same minorities were persecuted under Franco and there was even a special prison in Zamora for priests sympathetic to the Republic.   Religious - i.e. Catholic - education in state schools was compulsory until a few years ago, and there are still many private and state-funded schools run by the Catholic Church.

So it is perhaps not surprising that Spaniards have only recently felt free to openly declare themselves as homosexuals or atheists - and they are not going to give up that freedom lightly.

Nonetheless, when it comes to Nuestra Señora, the Virgin Mary, even non-churchgoers and declared agnostics will join the faithful and walk behind elaborately decorated statues of Our Lady on the processions and romerías that take place all over Spain throughout the summer months (the one in Alcalá is this coming weekend).  They queue up to kiss her hands and feet when she is on display in the church, they cross themselves when they go past her many shrines (even if they are on a motorbike at the time with a phone in the other hand), and thank her by name whenever they have a lucky escape.

Mary is the benign element of religion, a mother-figure you can have a personal relationship with, the one who looks out for you and does not judge.  Marianism offers these people what they truly want from their faith; the Vatican does not.

Romeria de Nuestra Señora de los Santos, Alcalá de los Gazules


Tumbit.com said...

Perhaps one of the few counries in the world where there is a very blurred line between Culture, Religion and Tradition.

Tumbit.com said...

Perhaps one of the few countries in the world that confuses religion, culture and tradition. Saints days and cultural fiestas are ferevently adhered to but apparantly nobody is religious...

Maureen Dolan said...

Couldn´t agree more - though I think Spaniards are actually pagans (and good for them!). I´ve an inkling that Marianism is like the booby prize (no pun intended)from the time when the male Christian hierarchy robbed pagan priestesses and midwives of their sacred power over women´s bodies, as well as their dresses to become pre-eminent. When they saw that the ancient mother goddess figure was still loved and revered they let her be the "mother of Christ" (but not a goddess) to soften the harsh face of the Vatican. Very sweeping statements I know, but I think it´s probably how it happened.