By Richard Morley.
As I write this the Pope has just arrived at
, Barajas airport and on my TV screen is being greeted by the great and the good. He is here to lead the celebrations for la Jornada Mundial Jóvenes, or World youth day. Madrid
His arrival has been preceded over the past few days by an estimated one and a half million pilgrims. Most of them are in their teens or early twenties, although there are a few that most definitely are no longer in the throws of juventud. They seem to be enjoying themselves. As I travelled into the centre of
yesterday evening my Metro carriage was stuffed to the walls with young people wearing the official yellow tee-shirt emblazoned with a giant M. As we alighted at Gran Via station one of their number started to sing and the refrain was picked up by EVERY OTHER similarly clothed person on the platform. The serenade continued as we slowly rose on the escalators to the surface. Madrid
There, the normal residents of Montera, famous for its ladies of “negotiable affection”, had been replaced by groups of singing, cheering, flag-waving kids. The neighbouring McDonalds burger joint was packed with hungry youth, the pavements of Gran Via, and side streets, heaving with visitors.
This is August. Normally at this time the streets of
are comparatively quiet as most residents are on their annual vacations. Seats on the Metro are obtainable as are tables in the restaurants. This week is different. Madrid
I walked along Gran Via to
where I was meeting a friend. Both of us are fans of Harry Potter and we had arranged to see the ultimate film or the eponymous young wizard. The newly rebuilt Plaza Callao that now boasts an acre of rather boring flat grey stone (criticised in the local press, together with the other newly refurbished plazas of Sol and Isabel II, as “ugly deserts of granite” with little character,) was also crowded with the young pilgrims. Each waved their countries flag around which they grouped. One group of young Filipino boys held a sign optimistically offering “Free hugs and kisses”, another group chanted in time to a noisy vuvuzela. Last year’s world cup in Callao has a lot to answer for! Another burger joint, Pans and Co and Starbucks next door were packed to the doors. Wherever you looked there were smiles. There was laughter from all directions and in all accents. (Yes, laughter has an accent!) South Africa
And it was infectious. It was impossible not to smile. As I said to my friend when she arrived, “There’s are lots of people who have no idea where they are going, but are singing as they go there”.
It has been billed as a “party” for Catholic youth. Unfortunately, every party has its “party-poopers” or “aguafiestas” as they say here. They are saying that it is wrong for
to host such a party at a time when more than twenty percent of the population is out of work. They are claiming that while the government has cut funding for medicine and education the state should not be spending an estimated sixty million euros on just a few days of celebration. Knowing quite a lot of teachers who have felt first hand the effects of the cuts in the education budget it is difficult not to sympathise. Madrid
The Government cut 40 million euros from the education budget, yet it is claimed they are spending 50 million on the pope's visit. AMAL thinks the church should pick up the tab.
Leading the protests against this event has been the Asociación Madrileña de Ateos y Librepensadores, (The Madrid Association of Atheists and Free-thinkers), AMAL. They have been leading a campaign against the use of public funds from taxation being spent for this purpose. There are many who agree with them.
The political sweep though my friends here swings from right(ish), - the days of far right wing in
are still active in many people’s memories, - to quite left. I know people who attend mass every week, though those who go for “special occasions” to those who hate any form of Church intervention in affairs of state. As an atheist brought up non-conformist protestant I tend to agree with the latter. Spain
Yet is was hard last night not to join in the obvious joys of the faithful who today will meet their leader. (The TV now shows me that the pope has now arrived in the centre of town. He zoomed from the airport to the centre in the pope-mobile, which travelled at a quite alarming rate. He shot through my barrio so fast that the faithful who had been waiting on the roadside for hours would have missed his passing if they had blinked!) Interviews with people in the waiting crowds displayed an excitement not seen since the victorious Spanish football team returned from the World Cup along the same route.
But last night AMAL thought it was a good time to make their voices heard. They had been organising the protest over several days on Facebook and more than six thousand had declared their intention to attend. The march would begin in the plaza Tirso de Molina and terminate in Sol. This was bad news for my friend and I. Our cinema tickets were for the Cine Ideal, one of the cinemas that shows movies in VO, or original language, and was on the marchers’ route. So I got a close up view of the parade and heard the shouts of the protesters.
They made me angry!
It was meant to be a protest again what they see as a misuse of public money and I am sure that is what the organisers intended. Yet among those who attended the protest were members of the 15M, Democracia, ya! Movement and suddenly the demonstration ceased to be a legitimate protest of taxpayers into a revolt against the church and the pope. Indeed this morning the newspapers are headlining it as an “Antipope protest”, which it was never meant to be.
Within the march were those who held banners proclaiming the moderate atheist view that “you don’t have to believe in a god to be good” and so on, and those who criticised the Catholic Church’s attitude towards contraception, gays and abortion. Unfortunately there were also those who chanted insults, including a ribald rhyme claiming the Virgin Mary to have been a lesbian. This was designed to provoke and insult those who held different opinions. I hope the organisers were ashamed. I hope they point out to their “supporters” that invective and insults can never replace intelligent debate. And it has to be said that today their Facebook page laments the idiocy of some of the marchers.
It has to said that it is reported the government is also a little concerned about what the pope might say during his visit.
Spain’s liberal views on gay marriage, abortion and with a contraceptive machine on nearly every street corner and in every metro station has drawn criticism from the in the past. They are hoping he keeps his orations on matters of youth and away from politics. Vatican
Voltaire did not say “I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend your right to impose your views on others”. That said though, I have met religious people who feel they do have that right. There’s a right that is wrong. It was probably the case that the “mal educado” in the march were a small minority. The police made a few arrests and there were a few wounded in scuffles. It is also worth a mention that earlier this week a Mexican Catholic youth was arrested by police for threatening to throw acid in the face of any protesting against the pope’s visit.
Official declarations claim that most of the cost of this celebration will be borne from the fees paid by the celebrants, but there are reported to be fifteen thousand police on the streets of
this week. The use of government property for the celebrations does not come cost free and neither do the conversion of Cibeles and Recoletas into a grand outdoor cathedral. All attendees have been given an eighty percent reduction on public transport while those of us who live here are now suffering a fifty percent increase on the cost of a single ticket. The church and state claimed that donations from Spanish companies would also ameliorate the cost, but played down the fact that those companies would be getting an 80% tax break on those contributions. So, that’s more money the state won’t get. One of what I consider to be one of AMAL’s legitimate demands is that the Catholic Church pick up the tab for everything. After all, it is their party! Madrid
But theses facts and the protests of the “antipapistas” seem to have no effect whatever on the gathered, celebrating catholic youth in
last night. They continued to sing and dance. The film finished just before midnight. As my friend and I walked through the plaza major en route to Opera metro (Sol station having been closed yet again!) the groups of pilgrims continued to sing from their seats on the terrace cafés and a fairly large group in the centre danced the Macarena - loudly. Scenes on TV right now of the crowds patiently awaiting the pope show lots of high spirits and enjoyment of their life. Madrid
In fact TV is showing little else right now. The protesters had their fifteen seconds of fame on the news broadcasts, but its all about the pope. I hope the celebrants will leave for their home countries with good memories of their time in this wonderful town. Judging by the joy on the faces of one and a half million young people, life is meant to be enjoyed and
is a great place to enjoy it. Madrid
We can cry “Bah Humbug” when they’ve all gone home.