MADRID — Pope Benedict XVI urged young people Thursday to build their lives "on the firm foundation" of the Christian faith at the start of his visit to Spain, where he drew massive crowds despite the growing secularism.
Hundreds of thousands of believers attended a huge "welcome party" for the pope at Madrid's centrally located Cibeles square. The 84-year-old German pontiff will be in Spain until Sunday for the Catholic World Youth Day celebrations.
The pope's visit was marked by violent clashes in Madrid late Wednesday between police and protesters furious over its cost to Spain, which is estimated at a minimum of $70 million. The protesters contended that was excessive at a time when many Spaniards are scraping by.
The protesters also condemned what they called the blurring of lines between a Catholic celebration and the secularism in Spain's Constitution.
But on Thursday crowds cheered the pope, waved flags and threw confetti as he drove toward Cibeles in the popemobile. Benedict then made a symbolic entry on foot into Madrid through the 18th century Alcala gate, in the company of 50 young people from five continents.
Almost 1 million pilgrims from about 190 countries have converged on the Spanish capital, according to government figures.
At the Cibeles square, many people had been waiting for the pope since the morning despite the sweltering heat. Protected by a large white umbrella, the pontiff was welcomed and given gifts by youths from all over the world, against the backdrop of a large image of the Virgin Mary holding the child Jesus.
In his address, Benedict stressed the importance of the faith as a solid foundation for life.
"There are many who, creating their own gods, believe they need no roots or foundations other than themselves," the pope said, warning that such "temptations" lead to "something so evanescent, like an existence with no horizons, a liberty without God."