ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:
Pope Benedict XVI arrived in Madrid today. He's there to celebrate World Youth Day with Catholic pilgrims from around the world. But as Lauren Frayer reports, Spain and its view of the Catholic Church have changed radically in recent decades.
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LAUREN FRAYER: Regal music is piped through the streets of Madrid as the popemobile rolls by. The faithful fall to their knees. Up to a million Catholics are here, including Sara Vallarta from Laredo, Texas.
SARA VALLARTA: It's been an awesome experience. It's incredible, you know, the amount of people that are here, coming all together with their faith.
FRAYER: But just hours ago, thousands of angry protesters forced their way through police barricades on this same thoroughfare.
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FRAYER: The number of protesters shouting out, out is only a fraction of those here to see the pope. But the presence of both groups gets to the heart of modern Spain. For 500 years, Spain spread Catholicism around the world. Now it's embraced secularism in a single generation.
ROCIO CANGAS: Basically, I don't believe in God.
FRAYER: Rocio Cangas is one of those protesting the cost of the pope's visit and what she calls an outdated link between church and state.
CANGAS: A lot of people have children now who are not brought up in the Catholic Church and parents who don't believe in God, and basically they bring up their children to be atheists, more than ever.
FRAYER: Most of the papal audience is foreign. Madrid clears out in August as locals head to the coast. I phoned Spanish sociologist Jose Ignacio Wert at the beach.
JOSE IGNACIO WERT: (Foreign language spoken)
FRAYER: World Youth Day was last held in Spain in 1989, at the height of liberal expression here - think Pedro Almodovar and punk rock. Chusa Gallego is a Madrid nurse who was here in 1989. She says that even then, there were no anti-pope protests.
CHUSA GALLEGO: I remember that everybody agreed, and everybody were so, so happy because it was the pope. But come on, it's 20 years.
FRAYER: Spaniards have since seen abortion and gay marriage legalized, and crucifixes taken down from the walls of their schools. Church doctrine changes more slowly. In a rare move, the Vatican is offering to forgive women who've had abortions if they confess at World Youth Day. They won't be excommunicated as is normally the case. But not many Spaniards are really worried about excommunication these days. Twenty-four-year-old Helena Fernandez says she's got more immediate concerns.
HELENA FERNANDEZ: We don't have jobs. We are 5 million persons that don't work, and you can make the university, but after, you don't have work.
FRAYER: More than 100 priests from Madrid's poorest barrios posted a letter online deploring tax breaks granted to World Youth Day's corporate sponsors, which mean that, ultimately, taxpayers foot at least part of the $70 million bill. Pilgrims get discount subway fares, but the price just went up 50 percent for regular folks. Brian Dugary is a 21-year-old Catholic from Philadelphia.
BRIAN DUGARY: It should be a boost for the economy, and I don't see why anybody would protest it.
FRAYER: Catholic organizers say it's not only goodwill they're spreading. It's also millions of dollars of tourist revenue. For NPR News, I'm Lauren Frayer in Madrid.
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