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|
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|