ROME – One can chose to believe in God or not, said the cardinal archbishop of Madrid on Tuesday, but it’s not licit to try to remove him from history.

Cardinal Carlos Osoro was leading the celebrations for the feast day of Our Lady of the Almudena, patroness of Madrid. Last year, the major celebration was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but as the Spanish capital slowly goes back to normal, the procession and the public Mass were back.

In his homily, the prelate said that after seeing “our vulnerability,” society will hopefully be able to “build the culture of care” and “put God at the center of life and history.” It was here that he said that “one can believe or not believe in God, but it is not licit to promote that he be withdrawn from the history of men.”

Osoro also appealed to all the Christians of Madrid to announce the Good News and avoid falling into “the temptation of isolating ourselves,” or only becoming friends with those who think alike, “remaining paralyzed” by those who think differently.

“In the past year and a half, we have discovered ourselves to be fragile and full of fears; our vulnerability has given rise to doubts and perplexities, and the cracks in our lifestyles and in the way our societies are organized have come to light,” Osoro said. “As we find ourselves immersed in a health, economic and social crisis, aggravated by other problems such as environmental and food problems, the pope’s reminder in Fratelli Tutti that ‘no one can be saved alone’ has resounded loud and clear.”

Fratelli Tutti is Pope Francis’s 2020 document on human fraternity.

Concelebrating the Mass with the cardinal were the archbishop emeritus of Madrid, Cardinal Antonio María Rouco Varela; the papal representative in the country, Archbishop Bernardito Auza; and the auxiliary bishops of Madrid.

At the end of the ceremony, the mayor of Madrid, José Luis Martínez-Almeida, a practicing Catholic, renewed the traditional Vow of the Villa to the Virgin.

“I ask that those of us who have the responsibility to govern – and me foremost – be reminded every day of your son’s advice: ‘If anyone wants to be first, let him be last of all, and servant of all’,” said the mayor, upholding a tradition that began in 1646.

“You did not let go of our hand during the ordeal [of the pandemic],” he said, asking the Virgin for guidance for building “a future of unity, prosperity and social justice”.

During his remarks, he also prayed to the Virgin for the most vulnerable so that “no Madrilenian is left helpless,” and also asked for her protection to guarantee “the indissoluble unity and future projection” of Spain, that has long seen several separatist movements, particularly in the region of Catalonia.

Osoro recalled that “last year, our patron saint, the Virgin of the Almudena, could not go out into the streets,” with all religious processions banned in Spain during the worst of the pandemic. The Mass was celebrated inside the cathedral with limited seating, as opposed to the thousands who attended on Tuesday, outside the cathedral.

The cardinal’s call for God not to be withdrawn from the history of men comes as Spaniards are losing their religion: According to various polls, close to 30 percent of the population declares themselves to be atheist or agnostics, an all-time high. The number grows to close to 50 percent among those aged between 18 and 24. Moreover, the percentage of practicing Catholics is also at an all-time low, with 27 percent declaring they go to Mass or pray regularly.

The warning against Spain’s growing division and tension over government attempts to “deconstruct and dismantle the Christian worldview” has been a constant theme for the Spanish bishops recently, including in a 95-page statement published July 28 setting out pastoral guidelines for the local Church until 2025.

“We are in a difficult moment, not only because of COVID-19, but because we are convulsed by a deep institutional crisis, with some groups seeking to open a new constitutional phase and replace a political framework that has given Spain great stability,” the bishops’ conference said.

“Legislative initiatives by the coalition government on education, euthanasia, abortion, democratic memory and the judiciary reflect a global deconstruction project, whose development puts freedom at risk and impedes essential unity.”

In this environment, Osoro’s homily had political undertones, especially since politicians of all stripes attended the ceremony.

“The presence of God in the midst of the history that we men are making gives us a Light so deep that it makes us see the shadows that appear in this world and in our own lives,” the cardinal said.

“Can we think about the present and the future of our common home and our common project without God? Is it possible to make projects about a reality that has been designed by God and not by men, apart from God?”

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