19:33 El NACHO 0 Comments

Visitors walk at El Valle de los Caidos (The Valley of the Fallen), the giant mausoleum holding the remains of dictator Francisco Franco, outside Madrid July 12, 2011/Andrea Comas

The Spanish government has asked the  Vatican for help transforming the Valle de los Caidos monument  holding the remains of dictator Francisco Franco into a place of  reconciliation, a Vatican spokesman said on Saturday. Ministers made the request during the visit of Pope Benedict  to Spain as part of a Roman Catholic World Youth Day which has seen hundreds of thousands of young people travel to Madrid from around the world to take part in religious festivities.

A government-appointed commission is due to make proposals in November on the future of Franco’s burial place in a mountain range an hour’s drive northwest of Madrid, dominated by a 150-metre-high crucifix and a focus for the extreme right. The monument, known as the Valley of the Fallen, is  dominated by a large basilica and is also home to an order of  Benedictine monks. It has long been a source of controversy.

Spain’s Catholic Church, which had close links with Franco during his 36-year dictatorship, has clashed with the Socialist government of Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero over gay marriage, abortion and the teaching of religion in state schools.

The future of the monument was discussed at a meeting on Friday between Minister for the Presidency Ramon Jauregui,  Foreign Affairs Minister Trinidad Jimenez, Secretary of State for the Vatican Tarcisio Bertone and the Papal Ambassador to Spain Monseigneur Renzo Fratini. Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said the Spanish government’s request was listened to by the Holy See, but no decision has been made.

“The proposals were listened to attentively but there was no decision or stance taken on the part of the Vatican. These are matters which require more in-depth discussion,” Lombardi told journalists at a briefing.

The government commission is one of several to have grappled with how to make the Valle de los Caidos acceptable to all Spaniards since Spain returned to democracy in 1978. One of its tasks will be to allow relatives to remove the remains of some 12,000 soldiers from the losing Republican side in the war, who were buried alongside Franco supporters at the valley without families’ knowledge or permission.

On Friday, the second-day of his four-day trip to Madrid, Benedict greeted groups of young nuns and unversity professors at the San Lorenzo monastery in El Escorial, a town nestling in the shadow of the Valle de los Caidos.  A day-trip to include both locations is one of the top attractions for tourists visiting Madrid.