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Pope condemns anti-church sentiment

Pope Benedict XVI has criticised an "aggressive" anti-church sentiment that he said is flourishing in Spain as he arrived on a two-day visit to rekindle faith in a key Roman Catholic nation.

Benedict said the anti-clericalism being felt today in Spain harks back to the 1930s when the church suffered a wave of violence and ill feeling as the country lurched from an unstable democracy to civil war.

Speaking en route to Santiago de Compostela, Benedict said he had created a new Vatican office to fight such secular trends worldwide.

He said Spain was a particular focus since it had played such an important role in reviving Christianity in centuries past.

"In Spain, a strong, aggressive laicity, an anti-clericalism, a secularisation has been born as we experienced in the 1930s," Benedict said. "For the future of the faith, it is this meeting - not a confrontation but a meeting - between faith and laicity which has a central point in Spanish culture."

The Pope is making two stops in Spain, first in the medieval and present-day pilgrimage city of Santiago, whose ornate cathedral is said to hold the remains of St James the Apostle.

In his comments upon arrival in Santiago, the Pope recalled that Pope John Paul II had issued a similar message to Spain and Europe to rediscover their Christian roots when he visited Santiago in 1982.

"A Spain and Europe concerned not only with people's material needs but also with their moral and social, spiritual and religious needs, since all these are genuine requirements of our common humanity," he said in Spanish.

The pontiff wraps his trip up on the other side of the country in Barcelona, where he will dedicate the famous, albeit unfinished, Sagrada Familia church.

There, he will also face a "kiss-in" staged by gays and lesbians expected to number in the thousands, evidence of the secular lifestyle that Benedict has identified as a threat to the faith.

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