(Protesters rebuke pilgrims (C) during a demonstration against what they claim is the expensive cost of the papal visit in central Madrid coinciding with the second day of the World Youth Day meeting August 17, 2011/Juan Medina)

Thousands of protesters marched in Madrid on Wednesday evening against the cost of the Pope’s visit to Spain this week at a time of growing public anxiety and economic hardship in the country. Protesters of all ages walked in the old city centre under the slogan ‘Nothing for the Pope from my taxes’, as hundreds of thousands of young people gather in the capital of the mainly Catholic country to celebrate World Youth Day this weekend.

“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’.

Pope Benedict arrives in Madrid on Thursday for a four-day visit culminating in a mass on Sunday in the Cuatro Vientos aerodrome which over two million people are expected to attend. The cost of the papal visit has triggered heavy criticism at a time of economic hardship in Spain from disaffected youths, as well as gay and lesbian and transgender groups, atheists and even some priests.

(Following is a Reuters video report followed by more protest footage)