Madrid (AFP) - Tens of thousands of Roman Catholics joined in an open-air mass in central Madrid on Sunday to celebrate the Holy Family, just days after the Spanish government agreed to tighten the abortion law.
As large crowds of believers packed the central Plaza de Colon square, many of them urged the government to go even further and implement an outright abortion ban without exceptions.
Madrid Archbishop Antonio Maria Rouco Varela lamented that Christian families were confronted by a public concept of personal life characterised by "transience".
"Not even the gift of life is understood as being definitive and inviolable and, therefore, neither is the gift of love," he told the congregation.
Under pressure from the Church, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's conservative government announced on December 20 it would roll back a 2010 law that had allowed women to opt freely for abortion in the first 14 weeks of pregnancy.
The new law, yet to pass parliament where the ruling Popular Party enjoys an absolute majority, would allow abortion only in cases of rape or a threat to the physical or psychological health of the mother.
Elena Valenciano, deputy head of the opposition Socialist Party, said the Madrid archbishop had been the first to congratulate the government on its new abortion legislation.
"The Catholic hierarchy in Spain has always wanted -- as it has done for centuries -- to govern the sexuality and uterus of women, who bishops have always distrusted," she said in a statement.
But as the faithful in Madrid sang hymns and waved banners from regions across Spain and other nations including France and Italy, some of them said the government must take more drastic action.
Angelita Yun, 75, who travelled by bus from Pozoblanco in the southern Spanish province of Cordoba to join the mass, said the new legislation should be improved.
"If my mother had aborted I would not be here. It is bad. Abortion is terrible. It is a crime," she said ahead of the mass, which is being held under the banner: "The family is a privileged place to spread the gospel to all nations".
Her friend, 82-year-old Maria Cardador, agreed.
"If they say there should not be a death penalty, then they also should not kill small children," Cardador said.
"They are killing so many children in those clinics. They should shut them all down, and that's that."
Emilio Alponzeca, a 51-year-old sailor from Lepe in southern Spain, said the mass, which is organised by the Archbishopric of Madrid, was a "meeting with God and family".
The new abortion law was no better than the previous version, he said, adding: "You cannot take a life."
Ignacio Gonzalez, a 49-year-old salesman from Murcia in the south, travelled with his wife and six children to the mass, which included a live video link to Pope Francis's weekly Angelus prayer in the Vatican's St Peter's Square.
"The new abortion law does not go far enough; it is still possible to have an abortion," Gonzalez said.
During the 2004-2011 rule of previous prime minister Jose Luis Zapatero, hundreds of thousands of believers attended the annual mass, many of them outraged by his Socialist government's legalisation of gay marriage in 2005 and the abortion reform of 2010.