Pope Benedict XVI strongly defended the traditional family based on marriage between a man and a woman during a visit to Spain on Saturday, taking on a Socialist government that has introduced liberal reforms such as gay marriage and fast-track divorce in this former bastion of the Roman Catholic Church.
As Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero stood nearby, staring straight ahead, Benedict called the family "a unique institution in God's plan."
"I wish to set forth the central role, for the Church and for society, proper to the family based on marriage," the German-born pope said, speaking under a canopy protecting him from the blistering Mediterranean sun.
Zapatero was booed by a small group of neighborhood residents when he, accompanied by his wife, arrived at the archbishop's residence for a face-to-face meeting with Benedict. Neither the Vatican nor the prime minister's office issued any comment on the 15 minutes of private talks.
Journalists were barred, but Spanish TV showed a brief broadcast of the two men exchanging gifts _ Zapatero giving Benedict a modern painting, and the pope giving the prime minister a copy of a Vatican codex.
Relations between the government and the Holy See have been strained, and the plans for the meeting, held on the pope's territory, were confirmed only a few weeks before the trip.
Benedict was making the third foreign trip of his papacy. He came to Spain for only 26 hours to address an international meeting on the family, an institution the Vatican warns is increasingly threatened by such liberal reforms as gay marriage, which was recently legalized in Spain, as well as in the Netherlands, Belgium and Canada.
In a city festooned with flags and balloons bearing the yellow and white colors of the Vatican and brimming with pilgrims from around the world, the pontiff also prayed for 42 people killed in a Valencia subway derailment on Monday a tragedy that added a tinge of sadness to his first visit here as leader of the Roman Catholic Church.
"We ask God's comfort for those who remain and those who left us," the pope said, speaking in clear Spanish outside the ill-fated station named for nearby Jesus Street, where he laid a wreath of white roses. The crowd hushed to let him speak, reports AP.