pope 1 (Photo: Pope Benedict at  Santiago de Compostela Cathedral, November 6, 2010/Stefano Rellandini)

Pope Benedict, on a lightning trip to Spain, urged Europe on Saturday to re-discover God and its Christian heritage and also denounced the country’s liberal abortion laws.

“Europe must open itself to God, must come to meet him without fear,” he said in the sermon of a Mass for more than 20,000 people in the square of Santiago de Compostela, which has been a major pilgrimage destination since medieval times.

Spain’s Roman Catholic Church, whose image was stained by its close relationship with Francisco Franco during his 36-year dictatorship, has clashed with the Socialist government of Prime Minister Jose Luis Zapatero over gay rights and abortion. Read the full story by Cristina Fuentes-Cantillana in English here and in Spanish here.

One of the main themes of Benedict’s papacy — and an aim of the Spanish trip — has been what the Church calls the “re-evangelisation” of Europe, an attempt to urge people to return to their religious roots despite living in highly secularised societies.

censerUpon arrival on Saturday morning, the pope spoke of the need to defend “the most defenceless,” and in the afternoon he decried “public silence with regard to the first and essential reality of human life” — references to abortion. Click here for his sermon in Spanish or in English translation.