A fake ‘Popemobile’ with a devil’s head set next to the driver led a phalanx of demonstrators through the streets of Madrid as thousands turned out to protest against a visit by Pope Benedict.
The focus of their anger was the amount of money the visit is costing the Spanish government at a time when the country is struggling with recession and sky high unemployment.
They carried placards with such slogans as ‘Papa don’t Preach’ – ‘God Yes, Church No’ – and ‘Not with my taxes!’
Among the crowds were many from Spain’s “indignant” movement, who are upset about politicians’ poor management of the economic crisis.
One protester said he wanted Spain to stop cosying up to the Roman Catholic Church: “We must move towards a secular state, it is necessary to strictly separate state and religions, and the privileges the Catholic Church has have to disappear gradually.”
“It is costing a lot of money for the Spanish state which is going through a bad period,” said 55-year old Rosa Vazquez, carrying a placard saying ‘Religion is the opium of the people, don’t drug yourself with our taxes’.
There were tense scenes when protesters came up against pilgrims waving Vatican flags and shouting “Long Live the Pope” with police keeping the two sides apart.
Pope Benedict will be in Madrid for four days for the World Youth festival which is held every three years.
As he arrives Spanish gays and lesbians plan to hold a separate protest “kiss-in” against the Church’s attitude to homosexuality.