Madrid, May 3 (Reuters): Pope John Paul today prayed the world would finally see lasting peace as he began a lightning trip to Spain — whose government backed the US-led war on Iraq that was opposed by the Vatican.
Thousands cheered, waved and released balloons and confetti as the frail 82-year-old pontiff, making his 99th trip outside Italy and his fifth to Spain, was ferried by “pope-mobile” from the airport to the Vatican’s embassy in the centre of Madrid.
The pope said in an arrival address he hoped Spain and Europe would look to their Christian roots and respect traditional values, including the rights of the unborn, as the continent forged ahead with integration and enlargement.
“I ask the Lord that Spain and the entire world enjoy peace that is fruitful, stable and long-lasting combined with coexistence within the marvellous diversity of its people,” he said.
“My wish is for everyone to have the peace that only God through Jesus Christ can give; peace which is the fruit of justice, the truth, of love, of solidarity...,” he said.
The pope’s 36-hour trip, whose centrepiece is a canonisation ceremony tomorrow, is his first overseas since the Iraq war.
The pope was at the forefront of an international campaign to avert war, which put him and the Vatican on a collision course with Washington and its allies in the conflict.
Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, a strong supporter of the war, had an audience with the pope this afternoon.
He had earlier been among those greeting the pope at a colourful arrival ceremony at Madrid airport where King Juan Carlos read the welcoming address.
Spain too is torn by sporadic violence by ETA, western Europe’s most active guerrilla group, which has killed over 830 people since 1968 in a campaign for an independent Basque state.
The pope, who turns 83 on May 18 and suffers from Parkinson’s disease and arthritis, appeared to be in relatively good condition as he was pushed on a wheeled platform along a red carpet to be greeted by Spain’s king and queen.