|Pope Benedict XVI reserved a special message for the youth of Spain anxious about their economic future [Reuters]
Pope Benedict XVI has warned at the start of a visit to crisis-hit Spain that Europe won't be able to emerge from its economic woes unless it realises that economic policy cannot be guided by a profit-driven mentality alone.
Benedict made the comments on Thursday as he traveled to Spain's capital for the Catholic Church's World Youth Day, the Catholic festival held once very three years that is expected to draw 1 million young people from 193 countries for a week of bonding, praying and partying in Madrid's streets - normally deserted in August.
Hundreds of thousands lined Madrid's main boulevards to welcome the pontiff as he arrived for a four-day visit, a day after a protest against his trip turned violent.
He said that the continent must take into account ethical considerations that look out for the common good and added that he understood the desperation felt because of today's economic uncertainties.
"The economy doesn't function with market self-regulation, but needs an ethical rationale to work for mankind,'' he told reporters traveling aboard the papal plane.
"Man must be at the centre of the economy, and the economy cannot be measured only by maximisation of profit but rather according to the common good.''
He particularly addressed the precarious state of Europe's anxious youth, concerned about their future.
"Many young people look worriedly to the future, as they search for work, either because they have lost their job or because the one they have is precarious or uncertain,'' Benedict said. He urged young people to keep fast in their faith.
"With God beside them, they will possess light to walk by and reasons to hope, unrestrained before their highest ideals, which will motivate their generous commitment to build a society where human dignity and true
brotherhood are respected,'' he said.
Benedict's call was welcomed by Spaniards, who have seen their economy sputter while the government battles its debt woes.
Young Spaniards in particular are growing increasingly frustrated at their grim work prospects amid Spain's nearly 21 per cent unemployment rate, a eurozone high.
"It's good to see the pope addressing these issues and giving us Spaniards some direction as to where to go to get out of this crisis, which worries so many young Spaniards,'' 27-year-old schoolteacher Fernando Sanchez said.
"It's not a realistic message, it's an idealistic one,'' he said.
"But sometimes ideals can become reality. He sets high goals and then we have to see how to achieve them.''
This is Benedict's third trip to Spain as pope, cementing its reputation as the heart of his campaign to reinvigorate the faith in places where Catholicism has fallen by the wayside. Laws passed under Jose Luis Zapatero, the prime minister, allowing gay marriage, fast-track divorce and easier abortions have deeply angered the Vatican, which sees the once staunchly Roman Catholic country as a battleground for the future of the faithful in Europe.
Meanwhile, many Spaniards have balked at the cost of Benedict's visit at a time of economic difficulty. Many have cited the fact that pilgrims are getting deeply discounted subway and bus tickets while such prices for everyone else went up 50 per cent this month.
Vatican Radio responded to the critics on Thursday, noting that the $72 million tab for staging World Youth Day is being paid for by the participants themselves, some private donors and the church.
Critics say the organisers' estimate doesn't include security costs and is a fraction of the total.
Protests against the visit
On Wednesday night, about 5,000 people opposed to the pope's visit marched peacefully to Madrid's central Puerta del Sol plaza, which has been the epicenter of Spain's antiestablishment protests since May.
A smaller number of protesters then clashed with riot police; police said eight demonstrators were arrested and 11 people were injured.
"People were going really crazy but, at the same time, God wants all of us to be here and I know that he'll like protect us all while we're here,'' Holly Springfield, a 17-year-old American who witnessed the protest said.
Another protest targeted the organisers directly: the World Youth Day website was up and down all day thanks to what it said were "hacking attacks.''
But Benedict arrived in Madrid on Thursday to a boisterous welcome from young people with their faces painted the colors of the Spanish flag chanting: "These are the pope's young people!''
A cordon of youngsters decked out in faux Swiss Guard uniforms greeted Benedict on the tarmac at
Madrid's Barajas airport, along with Spain's King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia.
Zapatero and conservative opposition leader Mariano Rajoy, the man forecast to take power in November elections, also were present.