Image source link.
In Spain today, Catholicism is not merely an ancient source of tourist attractions. Note that the Pope on his just completed trip dedicated a significant church in Barcelona that is still not completed. The age of building great churches in Europe is not over, at least not in Spain. (As a side note, even the cathedral of Madrid was just dedicated in 1993 by John Paul II--European Catholicism is not merely a matter for tour guides and historical preservationists.)
Here is the Vatican Information Service article looking back on the Pope's trip:
POPE RECOLLECTS HIS APOSTOLIC TRIP TO SPAIN
VATICAN CITY, 10 NOV 2010 (VIS) - During his general audience, held this morning in the Paul VI Hall, Benedict XVI reminisced about his recent apostolic trip to the Spanish cities of Santiago de Compostela and Barcelona. "I went there", he said, "to strengthen my brothers and sisters in the faith, and I did so as a witness of the Risen Christ and a sower of the hope that does not disappoint and does not fail".
From the beginning of the trip, during the welcome ceremony at Santiago de Compostela, "I was able to experience the affection the people of Spain feel towards Peter's Successor", he said. "In this Holy Year of Compostela, I wished to become a pilgrim, along with the many others who have journeyed to that famous shrine".
In the cathedral of Santiago, "where with great emotion I gave the traditional embrace to the saint, I thought how that gesture of welcome and friendship is, in fact, ... a powerful sign of the desire to conform ourselves to the apostolic message. This message, on the one hand, commits us to being faithful custodians of the Good News the Apostles transmitted, without succumbing to the temptation to alter it, diminish it or distort it to other interests while, on the other, it makes each of us tireless announcers of faith in Christ, with the word and witness of our lives in all fields of society".
The Holy Father then turned his attention to the reasons that make so many people leave their daily lives to follow the Route of Santiago. "In moments of confusion, of searching, of difficulty, and in the desire to strengthen their faith and live more coherent lives, the pilgrims of Compostela follow a profound itinerary of conversion to Christ Who took the weakness and sins of humanity, the misery of the world, on His own shoulders, and carried them to where evil no longer has any power and where the light of goodness illuminates all things. They are people from all over the world who walk silently, rediscovering the ancient mediaeval and Christen tradition of pilgrimage as they pass through towns and cities permeated by Catholicism".
"It is faith in Christ that gives meaning to Compostela, an extraordinary spiritual place which continues to be a landmark for Europe today. ... Openness to the transcendent, and fruitful dialogue between faith and reason, between politics and religion, between economy and ethics, will enable us to build a Europe which, faithful to its vital Christian roots, can fully respond to its vocation. ... Thus, certain of the immense possibilities of the continent, and trusting in its hopeful future, I invited Europe to open itself to God and so favour prospects for authentic and respectful encounter, united with peoples and civilisations of other continents".
Benedict XVI then spoke of the second stage of his apostolic trip, which took him to Barcelona where he consecrated the church of the Sagrada Familia and declared it as a minor basilica. Contemplating the beauty of that building, "which invites us to raise our gaze and our souls to heaven, to God, I recalled other great religious buildings, such as the cathedrals of the Middle Ages which have profoundly marked the history and appearance of the major European cities.
"That splendid work, rich in religious symbolism, ... almost like an immense stone sculpture", he added, "draws us to the true shrine, the place of authentic worship, heaven, where Christ entered to appear before God on our behalf. The great architect of this magnificent temple brilliantly represented the mystery of the Church into which the faithful are incorporated by Baptism as living stones in the construction of a spiritual edifice".
The church of the Sagrada Familia was conceived by its architect, Antoni Gaudi, "as an immense catechesis on Jesus Christ, as a hymn of praise to the Creator. ... Indeed, the extraordinarily expressive and symbolic capacity of the artistic forms and motifs, as well as the innovative architectural and sculptural techniques, evoke the supreme Source of all beauty", said the Pope. He then explained how Gaudi's own life, "from the moment he accepted the commission to build the church, ... was marked by a profound change" as he felt "the need to prepare himself spiritually in order to succeed in expressing the unfathomable mystery of God in material reality".
The Holy Father went on: "In Barcelona I also visited the 'Obra Benefico-Social Nen Deu', ... where handicapped children and young people are cared for with love and professional skill. Their lives are precious in the eyes of God, and they are a constant invitation to us to abandon our own selfishness".
Also in Barcelona, "I prayed intensely for families, the vital cells and the hope of society and of the Church. I also recalled people who suffer, especially at this time of severe economic difficulties. My thoughts also went to the young, ... that they may discover the beauty, value and commitment of Marriage in which a man and a woman form a family which generously accepts life and accompanies it from conception until natural end. Everything done to support marriage and the family, to help people in need, everything that serves to enhance man's greatness and his inviolable dignity, also helps to perfect society".
The Pope concluded his remarks by rendering thanks to God "for the intense few days I spent in Santiago de Compostela and Barcelona". He expressed his gratitude "to the King and Queen of Spain, to the Prince and Princess of Asturias, to the authorities, ... to the archbishops of those two particular Churches", and to "everyone whose efforts ensured my visit to those two marvellous cities was fruitful. They were unforgettable days which will remain inscribed in my heart".
Before this morning's general audience, in St. Peter's Basilica, the Pope had received a group of pilgrims from the Italian town of Carpineto Romano who had come to Rome to thank him for his visit there in September commemorating the bicentenary of the birth of Pope Leo XIII.
Also in the basilica, the Pope then greeted a group of pilgrims from the Czech Republic, who had likewise come to Rome to return the visit the Pope had made to their country in September 2009. "I pray to the Lord", he told them, "that He will cause the grace of that journey to bear fruit, and I hope that the Christian people of the Czech Republic many continue to bear courageous witness to the Gospel, with renewed enthusiasm and in all places".