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Zapatero puts in special request to meet the Pope

Jimmy Burns In Barcelona

PRIME MINISTER José Luis Zapatero has asked to have a meeting with Pope Benedict XVI during the papal visit to Spain in November, in what is being widely seen here as an olive branch from a government that has been in prolonged conflict with the Catholic bishops. The Pope is due in northern Spain on 6 and

7 November to consecrate Gaudí’s emblematic Sagrada Familia Church in Barcelona and to proclaim it a basilica, and to celebrate the Jacobeo Holy Year in Santiago de Compostela, where he will visit the shrine of St James. There is a jubilee year in celebration of the apostle – known as a Jacobeo year – every time his 25 July feast day falls on a Sunday. The official itinerary of this pastoral visit includes private meetings between the Pope and the Spanish royal family – King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia, and Prince Felipe and Princess Letizia. It was not scheduled to include any meetings with politicians in def- erence to what until now has been billed as a strictly commemorative and pastoral visit.

Catholicism ‘is the religion most under attack’

ROMAN CATHOLICISM is the least tolerated religion in Europe and is attacked even more than Islam, according to French philosopher and journalist Bernard-Henri Lévy, writes Tom Heneghan. He spoke out after a police report showed that a cemetery or religious building was desecrated every other day in France and the vast majority of the targets were Christian. “In France, there is much talk about the desecrations of Jewish and Muslim cemeteries, but nobody knows that the tombs of Catholics are continually desecrated,” he told the Madrid daily ABC. “We have the right to criticise religions, but the most attacked religion today is the Catholic religion.” Lévy, a public intellectual usually

identified with the secular centre-left, also defended Pope Benedict XVI, saying his “voice is extremely important”.

34 | THE TABLET | 2 October 2010

However, the request from Mr Zapatero to be included in the schedule is the latest of a series of moves by Spain’s Socialist Government aimed at trying to repair the damaged relations with the Catholic Church at a time when the Prime Minister’s popularity has sunk because of his failure to solve the country’s economic crisis, prompting mount- ing social unrest in the face of rising unemployment and tough new labour laws. While facing opposition from within his own Socialist ranks, Mr Zapatero has been trying to reconcile with Catholic voters who in recent years have organised mass protests against the Government’s secularist pro- gramme and who this week threatened to join in a general strike called by trade unions. While the Government has pushed ahead with its new abortion laws, other controversial legislation such as new laws allowing for euthanasia and banning the use of religious symbols have yet to enter the statute books, with Mr Zapatero apparently not minded to hurry the process along.

According to Spanish diplomatic sources, the Spanish Government observed very closely the recent visit of Pope Benedict to Britain,

José Luis Zapatero pictured with Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican in June. Photo: CNS

and the generally positive impact it had on the relations between the British state and the Vatican, and in particular the extent to which leaders of all political parties warmed to what the Pope had to say about the need for modern society to be underpinned by eth- ical values. Evidence that the papal visit to Spain may well benefit from the Benedict “bounce” is contained in a leading article in Monday’s most serious Catalan newspaper, La Vanguardia, pointing out that the papal visit to the UK helped dispel the caricature of Benedict XV1 as an uncaring and fundamen- talist Pope. The article contrasts the Pope’s sympathetic image with the irreverent treatment of him in a popular Catalan TV comedy series, where he is portrayed as a hysteric with nothing to say of any value or interest.

Zimbabwe’s Christians pray for their land

THOUSANDS OFChristians across Zimbabwe gathered last Sunday to pray for God’s help in rebuilding their shattered nation, focusing on faithful stewardship of the land and recon- structing farming, writes Ellen Teague. “Catholics joined the ecumenical prayer in

several parts of the country, particularly to pray for economic recovery and efforts to assist farming,” Fr Frederick Chiromba, gen- eral secretary of Zimbabwe’s bishops’ conference, told The Tablet. He was part of an “enthusiastic and positive” crowd of around 7,000 people who stood under a scorching sun at Civic Centre Grounds in Harare. Some 5,000 people from different Churches gathered in the country’s second city, Bulawayo, and prayer events also took place at 50 rural locations. “We heard about ways to conserve soil and adjust to climate change, because inadequate rainfall is a major problem in many areas,” Fr Chiromba said. Another Catholic source reported that friends who went found it “one of the most positive experiences they’d had in many years”.

Fr Chiromba didn’t know if any of Zimbabwe’s Catholic bishops attended the big events on a day billed as a “LoveZim Prayer Day”, but they supported the initiative. Zimbabwe’s agriculture has been crippled for a decade by the combined effects of cata- strophic government land reforms and severe drought. According to the Christian charity Tearfund, 1.6 million Zimbabweans need food aid and a third of all children under five are chronically malnourished. Last Sunday there were prayers for rain, peace, prosperity and unity. Attendees were urged to plant maize, no matter how little land they had, and to take care of the poor. On 24 September, Zimbabwe’s President,

Robert Mugabe, asked the US and Europe at the UN Millennium Development Goals Summit in New York to lift “illegal sanctions” imposed against his regime. He was informed they would remain until human rights and political freedom in Zimbabwe improved. Fr Chiromba said Zimbabwe’s Catholic bishops favoured the lifting of sanctions, that targeted the rich but also affected the poor.

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