Pope John Paul II is proving to be a better crowd gatherer than any of the Spanish politicians during the recent electoral campaign. Ever since the World Cup last June, Spaniards have evidently gotten used to turning out in huge crowds to chant athletic then political, and now religious slogans, waving banners, and cheering fervently without even changing styles.
His 10-day visit here has turned out crowds that are perhaps the most spectacular in Spanish history. Not even the Rolling Stones last summer could top the estimated 11/2 to 2 million people who thronged into Madrid Nov. 2 and tied up traffic for the day.
(At Madrid University, the Pope disowned the Spanish Inquisition, which saw fierce persecution of heretics and Jews mainly in the 16th and 17th centuries, saying it represented error and excess.)
A massive sermon by the Pope to millions of believers vigorously condemned abortion, divorce, and extolled the virtues of Catholic education and conjugal fidelity.
Although Spaniards elected a decidedly lay oriented Socialist Party that defends the separation of church and state, 95% of the population is baptized and married in the Catholic faith.
Only a week ago, over 10 million Spanish voters elected a new Socialist government that advocates a lay state, including the right to divorce and abortion on limited grounds. The Socialists' begrudging attitude about state subsidies to private religious education has also caused suspicion within the church.
Nevertheless, while the Pope fervently defended religious and moral values that run counter to the Socialist Party, his earlier speeches to the diplomatic corps and representatives of the incoming Socialist government reaffirmed the Vatican's respect ''for the legitimate representatives of the Spanish people.'' The Pope's trip was delayed, precisely because the Vatican evidently thought it best to avoid confusing electoral issues with religious convictions.
In Spain, many Socialist voters could identify with the Pope's defense of human rights while ignoring his interpretation of moral issues. On the other hand, many of those who applauded condemnation of abortion found the Pope's criticism of economic liberalism and social injustice in the capitalistic world perhaps less to their liking.