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VALENCIA, Spain (Reuters) - Pope Benedict urged Spain to defend the traditional family on Saturday as he began a lightning trip to the country which has clashed head-on with the Church over the legalisation of gay marriage.
The Pope said there were certain things to which the Church must just say "No", and that the family based on heterosexual marriage was "a unique institution in God's plan".
But Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, whose government legalised gay marriage last year, was whistled as he arrived at the archbishop's residence for an audience with the Pope, which lasted just 15 minutes. The crowd booed Zapatero while he was inside and when he left.
"There are certain things that Christian life says 'No' to," the Pope told reporters on his plane from Rome to Spain.
"We want to make people understand that according to human nature, it is a man and a woman who are made for each other and made to give humanity a future," he added.
As well as the gay marriage law, which gives gays the same adoption and inheritance rights as heterosexual couples, the Church has criticised new Spanish laws making divorce and fertility treatment easier and cutting religious education.
In an address, the Pope paid tribute to historical Spain, once ruled by the Catholic kings, and urged bishops to hold firm "at a time of rapid secularisation".
"Acting as if (God) did not exist or relegating faith to the purely private sphere, undermines the truth about man and compromises the future of culture and society," he said.
Tens of thousands of pilgrims have swarmed into Valencia for the family rally and lined the streets cheering and waving yellow and white Vatican flags as the Pope made his way from the airport to the town centre.
On his way, the Pope stopped at the site of an underground train crash that killed 42 people on Monday.
Bowing his head in silence towards the pavement outside Jesus station, Benedict made the sign of the cross, laid a wreath of flowers and asked the Madonna to console the bereaved.
Later on Saturday, the Pope was due to preside at a huge rally with families at a futuristic arts and science complex near the sea which will also be the venue of a mass dedicated to families on Sunday morning before he returns to Rome.
A senior Vatican source on the plane said there was a "certain irritation" within the Pope's entourage over Zapatero's decision not to attend the Sunday mass.
The source noted that in the past, Cuba's Communist leader Fidel Castro, Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega and former Polish President Wojciech Jaruzelski attended masses presided over by the late Pope John Paul II when he visited their countries.
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